Okay, so my predictions fall a little short of Moses. But, I think I pretty well nailed this one. I said the Pacers would win game two, and they did. I said later in the series, the Pacers would blow this Heat team out of the gym. Last night, Erik Spolestra emptied his bench with two or three minutes to go.
What's happened here? Well, Dan Dakich put the idea in my head, but it didn't take much convincing to put me in his camp. He said during his show yesterday (which was well before last night's game) that he thought the Pacers were just the better team, plain and simple. His evidence was pretty compelling.
Something my dad has always said, and I'm sure he's far from the only one, is that basketball games don't really start until halftime. You play the first half, figure out who's hot, who's not, what adjustments you need to make. Then you go out and play the second half and see who adjusted better. Usually the better team will come away with a win even when they are down at half, because they adjust better, and in many cases, have the athleticism to simply fatigue the opposing team and take advantage. This is especially glaring in college ball. How many times do you see a smaller team stay with a big school all through the first half, even take a lead into halftime, before they lose by 20 or 30?
It happens in the NBA, too, but usually the margins are smaller than in college. And I truly believe that's what's happening in this series. Without Chris Bosh to tighten the floor and draw out Roy Hibbert,* the Heat don't seem to have the horses to stick with Indiana.** Let's look at game two for a moment. The Pacers played absolutely horrible in the first half. Worst half of the playoffs, probably one of the worst halves of the year. But, they played good enough defense to keep the game at a five point deficit at half. In the second half, third quarter especially, the Pacers came out and pounded the Heat. The game really wasn't as close as the three point margin would indicate.
*A lot more about Hibbert and how he affects the series later.
**I don't know if anybody else has noticed, but I typically make it a point to call them the Pacers and shy away from saying Indiana. I'm sure it comes as no surprise, but that's because I don't like the similarity to IU. I've decided, for now, anyway, to go away from that. I know the sentiment behind the Indiana name as opposed to Indianapolis was to include the whole state and because there was a thought that this might become a barnstorming team of sorts. The playing games throughout the state thing didn't happen, I do like that they go out of the way to say "This is Indiana," not "This is Indy." So, yeah, I'm softening on that.
We finally got our car back yesterday, which meant I spent most of the afternoon listening to ESPN radio. it was funny to hear all the Miami people talking about this series and what they thought would happen. I really think that was my first indication that the Pacers might actually win this series. To a man, everybody connected in some way to the Heat went on about they still had enough to beat the Pacers and how this Heat team was just really hurting over losing Bosh and how they would figure out. And, of course, Lebron and Dwyane just had too much pride to let this team lose.
If those weren't simultaneously the biggest slap in the face and the most delusional things I heard yesterday. I won't disagree that the Heat really need Chris Bosh, but as I posted after the second game, the Pacers were better that night without Roy Hibbert. He sacked up and took some pride last night, playing maybe his best game as a pro, but there's no way you should have looked at game two and come to the conclusion that "If only we had somebody to stop Roy Hibbert or get him out of the game." That just wasn't based in reality in that game. Also, you know, just to assume that because you have these two guys, all-world as they may be, you will beat this team. I know Miami fans, at least before last night, didn't believe Indiana is for real. The rest of the nation might not have, either. Hopefully game three earned some respect.
On the last point, where did you get the idea that LeBron and Wade have "too much pride" to let a team lose? Since when have we ever heard about how LeBron James is lion-hearted? Have we forgotten how he absolutely quit on Cleveland before he bailed? How he ended up in Miami in the first place? How he totally disappeared in the fourth quarters of last year's finals? All those moments? Sorry, but it's LeBron's standard operating procedure to shut down if you get in his face, and Danny Granger knows that. Notice how things went the past two games when Granger got to jawing in LeBron's face.* And Wade? I know this is more from last night, but that whole confrontation with the coach last night? And how he sulked through most of that pivotal game? He has too much pride? If there was ever any ammo for Dwyane Wade being a crybaby, that would be Exhibit A.
*Related, but unless you've really been watching the Pacers the past few seasons, you might not know that Danny Granger is pretty hot-headed. I think Danny's great, but it doesn't take a whole lot to get him worked up and in somebody's face.
You know who isn't getting nearly the credit they should? Paul George. Paul George has been an absolute BAMF on defense. He's is too big, too long, and quite possibly too athletic for Dwyane Wade when he puts his mind to guarding him. Which was certainly the case the past two games. Wade was already being questioned for his output in game two, but he was absolutely shut down in game three. Credit nobody but Paul George. There were questions about whether Wade was injured. Only if Paul George is an injury. To a smaller degree, the same is true for Granger on LeBron. Yeah, LeBron got some points in the first half. But when Granger got a little rougher than LeBron wanted, he stopped scoring and turned into an absolute jump shooter. Which, he (nor Wade, for that matter) is not. I made that same point before game two. And if Shane Battier wants to keep jacking up threes, well, I think that 0-for performance last night shows just how comfortable the Pacers are with that.
The Pacers aren't going to blow out the Heat the next two games straight. I wouldn't be shocked if they win the next two games, but they will be closer. The Heat have two very talented players who will put some points up on the board, and somebody like Mario Chalmers last night will find a groove, and they will give the Pacers close games and will probably even win one or two. But after these last two games, I would be floored if the Pacers don't win this series. And I do think the Pacers will win on Sunday in Indy. And if you win this series, you've got either Philadelphia or Boston waiting for you, either of which I think the Pacers can beat. And once you're in the finals, who knows what could happen? The Spurs are a scary team right now, and the Thunder also look awfully good, but there's a real good chance they could wear each other out. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's go, Pacers! #BeatTheHeat