Four words have made all the difference between Miami and Indiana in the Eastern Conference Finals: points in the paint.
Anyone talking about foul calls or turnovers is wasting time. This one came down to Pacer players creating enough second chances with strong rebounding to recreate the performances that saw them dominate and bury the New York Knicks with close range buckets. When Indiana plays like they did in game four on the interior, they are one of the best teams in the NBA, worthy of their current standing in the Eastern Conference Finals. When they lean heavily on Paul George and pin any of their hopes to Lance Stephenson showing up on a consistent basis, they take away a crucial piece of their identity that makes them one of the most powerful teams around.
Roy Hibbert has been the difference in each of Indiana’s victories and has been partnered by David West on the boards where a distinct advantage for the Pacers has been spelled out in the form of a combined advantage of 26 rebounds in those two games. A number of possessions in game four turned into points for the Pacers after missed shots were cleaned up by somebody in yellow, whether it was Hibbert, West or even Lance Stephenson who indeed did show up with 20 points on the night.
The Pacers outscored Miami on the night 50-32 in the paint in game four. In game two, they at least matched Miami’s ability to score easy buckets and held the edge significantly in rebounds. If you look at games one and three, Miami was outrebounded but dominated in points in the paint, partially thanks to more marginal defeats in the rebounding department.
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Indiana’s defense is good enough to keep James and Wade from driving to the basket for 48 minutes and when they shoot 50% from the field you might be lead to believe that rebounding isn’t nearly as crucial, but since more than half of their points came from the paint and several on second chance shots, neither team will be mistaken about its pertinence.
When Miami plays small and puts all five players around the perimeter to clear the lane for a drive from one of its superstars, they kill their own ability to rebound and hence hand the Pacers the crucial advantage they need to win. The key stat in this series is simple: in two victories, the Pacers hold a 90-72 edge in points in the paint. In Miami's two wins, they hold a 112-84 advantage.
Game three was partially highlighted by the fact that Udonis Haslem shot the ball so well, but in game four the Heat were unable to get a similar performance out of the forward and relied heavily on the scoring capability of their guards. The Heat need a front court scorer to go toe-to-toe with Hibbert and West and to provide some sort of challenge for those players to defend other than a guy streaking to the hoop.
Chris Bosh has shot the ball well from the perimeter for the most part in this series, but in game four his impact was limited as he went 1-of-6 from the field. It’s pretty clear the Heat aren’t going to depend on Chris Andersen for a scoring punch and Haslem hasn’t ever shown the ability to consistently be that guy. Given Bosh’s salary and superstar status, you expect him to make the adjustment and bring the Heat some points from the low post, an area the Pacers successfully shunned James from after he killed them in the post in game three.
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With the series locked at 2-2 and the heavily hyped and pivotal game five set to unfold on Thursday in South Beach, we can expect a different sort of game. At this point, these two teams know all they need to know about one another, it’s just about adjustments. This is an area the Heat specialize in, so I would fully expect to see Bosh take to the paint and look to score from close range in order to ease some of the pressure of the Heat guards. James and Wade will do their thing and no matter what the Heat will compete, but it’s getting a presence in the paint that can disrupt the work of Hibbert that is going to send them back to Indiana with a lead.