Fittingly, on the day of the Indianapolis 500, the Miami Heat were running on all cylinders which meant it was going to be a long day for the home team.
The defending world champions eviscerated the Indiana Pacers‘ defense in lieu to a 114-96 win at Conseco Field House. The Heat controlled the pace throughout, scoring an unthinkable 70 points before the half and only adding to the bedlam in the third quarter when Ray Allen and Shane Battier joined the three-point barrage.
During the regular season, Indiana was the best team at chasing the opposition off the three-point line, with teams hitting at an average of lower than 33 percent. The Heat continuously received open looks and knocked down 6-14 three-point field goals.
Defense had been Indiana’s calling card all season. This was something it could take pride in and pull out tough games, no matter how big the scoring droughts were. The Heat have seemed to solve the Pacers’ puzzle by putting LeBron James on the block and negating Roy Hibbert’s help defense with Udonis Haslem spacing the floor.
Haslem, who has been particularly quiet this series, erupted with 17 points on 8-9 shooting. He has made a career of knocking down big jumpers and being a defensive stalwart and he didn’t disappoint Sunday.
The Pacers also forgot that they were the bigger team. They got the series tied on the plan to play inside out, yet there was no evidence that they were committed to punishing the Heat down low. The Heat fronted most entry passes in the post and made the Indiana front line a non-factor. In Game 4, Hibbert and West must get paint touches in order to give the Pacers their best chance to win.
Paul George, who has been one of the biggest breakout stars of this year’s playoffs, was also invisible. The Miami Heat forced him to drive left and contained him on the perimeter. He also wasn’t the defensive presence that we’ve seen him in the past, getting into passing lanes and creating offense off of turnovers.
Miami was phenomenal in Game 3 to reclaim this series. They finally took Indiana out of their comfort zone in dominating the paint and presented enough new wrinkles to confuse Indiana’s defense. It will be interesting to see how Indiana responds and if they can reclaim their paint dominance in Game 4. If not, we can see a rematch of San Antonio and Miami sooner then expected.