Indiana Pacers Must Protect the Rim Against Miami Heat in Game 2

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Indiana Pacers need to improve their play inside the paint and protect the rim against the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

In Miami’s Game 1 win, the Heat scored 60 points inside the paint by challenging 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert. Miami far exceeded its season average of 41.6 points inside the paint, which was 15th best in the NBA, by relentlessly attacking the rim and refusing to settle for long-range jumpers.

Pacers head coach Frank Vogel actually admitted that the Heat had a smart plan of attack against the rim-protecting Hibbert.

“They had a more intelligent plan against Roy Hibbert than (the) New York Knicks and we’ve got to adjust to it,” said Vogel in the aftermath of his team’s 103-102 overtime loss.

Miami’s execution of its plan and subsequent dominance inside the lane likely led to the Vogel’s fateful decision to keep Hibbert on the bench for Miami’s final two possessions of overtime.

The rest is history. With 2.2 seconds left, LeBron James drove past Paul George for an uncontested, buzzer-beating layup. Hibbert’s presence in the middle might’ve deterred James, but had George forced LeBron into a mid-range jumper, NBA analysts would be singing a different tune today.

Indiana, which allowed just 90.7 points per game this season, second-fewest in the NBA, needs to improve its defensive play inside the paint in Game 2.The Pacers must figure out how to turn Miami into more of a jump shooting team. Despite Hibbert’s 19 points, nine rebounds and two blocks, the center needs to amp up his defensive play.

Of course, LeBron is going to get easy buckets. He’s a four-time MVP and unstoppable around the rim. That’s just something the Pacers are going to have to live with, but it’s the rest of Miami’s roster that Indiana needs to defend better.

In Game 1, Chris Andersen went 7-of-7 from the field — a Heat playoff record — with all seven field goals coming from inside the paint. Dwyane Wade scored 19 points in the game, 17 of which resulted from a FG attempted inside the painted area. For a team that prides itself on defense and physical play, Miami’s dominance down low is unacceptable.

Indiana’s opponents averaged just 35.5 points in the paint this season, fewest in the NBA by 2.2 points. Indiana needs to get back that level of play to come away with a win in tonight’s Game 2.

Jon Krouner is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @jkrouner  ”Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google+

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