StatBox Breakdown: How it all went so wrong for the Indiana Pacers in Game 7

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Paul GeorgeThe dam seemed secure after Indiana’s pretty convincing Game 6 win over Miami. Then in the first half of Game 7, the dam broke, the floodgates came rushing open, and Indiana’s worst nightmare was realized.

The Pacers committed 14 first half turnovers and were never really in the game, falling quietly to the Heat 99-76 in the finale of a fantastic Eastern Conference Finals series.

“We just focused on every possession, trying to get stops, play Miami Heat defense, create havoc,” LeBron James said after his 32-point effort in Game 7. “I thought we did that tonight.”

Consider what changed from Game 6 to Game 7 and tell me this wasn’t the worst-case scenario for Indiana.

  • Indiana couldn’t shoot: The Game 7 loss must really sting, because Indiana’s field goal defense was really, really good over the last two games. Miami shot 36.1 percent in Game 6 and 39.5 percent in Game 7, but the Pacers went from 50 percent shooting in Game 6, to 40.6 percent on Monday. A huge reason for Indiana’s decline is not only Miami’s impressive defensive intensity, which should obviously be lauded, but Indiana’s drop-off from three. The Pacers were 10-for-18 from three in Game 6, and an abysmal 6-for-20 in Game 7.
  • Miami had the urgency: Miami started being super aggressive, driving the ball into the lane and playing with the urgency that a Game 7 warranted. The Heat literally doubled its free throw attempts, improving from 19 in Game 6 to 38 on Monday night. The Las Vegas over/under on James free throws was 6 1/2, which he bested in the first half. The Heat only committed six fewer fouls than the Pacers did, but Miami made sure that the team was going strong to the hoop and getting to the foul line.”By any means necessary … we took care of business,” James said. Even Ray Allen got into the act, knocking down three huge treys in the first half to create separation in the second quarter.
  • Dwyane WadeWade finally showed up: Various members of the media suggested that Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra actually bench Dwyane Wade for Game 7 after a pretty dismal few games leading up to the elimination match. Looking at Wade’s stats, a case could have been easily made for that:

    Wade FG % Points Rebs FTA
    Games 4-6 32.4 12 3.67 5.67
    Game 7 43.8 21 9 9

    “Everything that happened in the first six games didn’t mean anything to us,” Wade said. “It was about tonight. It was about Game 7. It was about finding a way to win here at home.”
    Wade took it upon himself to make an impact in Game 7, and flourished by getting to the rim and the free throw line and grabbing rebounds over smaller Pacers. Wade had nine rebounds, more than anyone on the Pacers. Which leads us to the next reason why Game 7 was the worst-case scenario for Indiana.

  • The Pacers were outmuscled: Indiana, the best rebounding team in the NBA, lost the battle of the boards by seven, 43-36. After doubling up Miami in points in the paint in Game 6, 44-22, both teams scored 30 in the interior on Monday. That’s an enormous shift and a credit to Miami for adjusting and beating the Pacers at their own game. Chris Bosh finally woke up for Miami, getting all eight of his rebounds in the fateful first half. Paul George was basically neutralized completely in Game 7, and David West and Roy Hibbert couldn’t make the impact necessary to offset George’s off night.
  • The backcourt failed: It was really simple. Indiana won in this series when the starting backcourt of George Hill and Lance Stephenson combined to shoot over 40 percent, and lost when they failed to do so. They were a combined 8-for-22 shooting in Game 7 (36 percent) and lost. Clearly this was not the only determining factor in the game, but those 14 shots the duo missed could have been taken by other high percentage shooters. And those potential makes would have taken away rebounds and potential offensive opportunities for Miami. So it does add up.

There is no doubt that the Pacers had a tremendous season, coming within one game (really, one James overtime layup in Game 1) of reaching the NBA Finals without Danny Granger. If they can bring back David West and incorporate Granger into the fold, Indiana’s depth issue will be alleviated and the team will be even better defensively going into next season. That’s a scary thought for every other team in the Eastern Conference.

It was just not Indiana’s night on Monday. Miami raised its intensity level, won the battle inside, got to the line, took George out of the game, got a vintage effort from Wade and turned Indiana’s biggest game in several years into an unmitigated nightmare.

(RELATED: Hubbard: To Keep Building his Own Dynasty, LeBron Must Defeat Another)

(RELATED: Sheridan Picks Spurs to Win in 7)

Shlomo Sprung loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

Bauman: Indiana’s postseason experience could prove invaluable

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Roy Hibbert & Joakim NoahMIAMI — Roy Hibbert sat calmly on the bench with his headphones blaring and the word “FOCUS” written on his right sneaker, right before game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Paul George answered a few questions from a reporter who was interested in whether George thought he’d done a good job of making himself marketable for endorsement deals (umm, not the time, buddy).

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Who will Win Game 7? Who Do You Want to Win?

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pacers small logoheat small logoEven if you are not a fan of the Indiana Pacers or the Miami Heat, tonight’s Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals is Must-See TV.

Each team has three stars, though the Heat’s Big Three (might we need to change that name after what we’ve seen in this series?) have historically outshined their counterparts on the Pacers (Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West) in terms of polularity and mass appeal.

Five Key Factors for Game 6 of Pacers-Heat

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heat small logopacers small logoMiami took back momentum in the Eastern Conference Finals with a 90-79 victory over Indiana on Thursday night. LeBron James looked more like Michael Jordan with his 30 point performance, 16 of it in the third quarter. (Should we be comparing them yet? Click for Chris Sheridan’s podcast on that subject.)

Now, the series is back in Indianapolis for Game 6. The Pacers’ backs are against the wall. Win or go home.

Below are the keys to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

With Chris Andersen suspended, who takes his place for Miami: Last night, the NBA announced that Chris “Birdman” Andersen would be suspended for his blindside hit and shove on Tyler Hansbrough.

Initially the referees gave double technicals to Hansbrough and Andersen, but the technical to Hansbrough was rescinded after further review. Surprisingly, Andersen was somehow not given an ejection for his antics Thursday night. He only received a flagrant 1 before further review.

Justice was served eventually served, though, in a postseason that has been relatively free of Stu Jackson interventions.

Now with Andersen not being on the court for Game 6, who takes his spot in the second unit? Enter in little-used and almost forgotten Joel Anthony.

Anthony is a good setter on pick-and-r0lls, opening up bigger lanes for guys like LeBron to drive through to the basket. He will also bring some shot-blocking and hustle to the Heat’s second unit, what Birdman has already shown and done so much since replacing Anthony in the rotation.

Anthony has not played more than 10 minutes or more in a game for over a month now. Expect him to be rusty and jittery when he first comes in to take on Roy Hibbert or Ian Mahinmi. Both Pacers big men have a massive advantage over Anthony, even Mahinmi.

If Anthony does not provide some sort of spark off the bench, it will be hard for Miami to close out Indiana. He needs to be the Heat’s energy guy somehow. Maybe even fouling out and committing six hard fouls on Hibbert could spice things up positively for the Heat. But Anthony’s increased role for a crucial game will be an interesting storyline to watch tonight.

George HillPacers need help from the backcourt: George Hill and Lance Stephenson both had the worst playoff game of their careers Thursday. Hill was 0-for-4 with 1 point, while Stephenson was 2-for-7 with 4 points. Only getting 5 points from your starting backcourt will not get it done against Miami.

The duo of Hill and Stephenson combine to only score 14 points in each of their three losses this series. In Indiana’s two wins, they combine to score 34 points. So the Pacers’ backcourt truly holds is a key to sending this series to a Game 7 on Monday night.

Looking at how the backcourt duo for Indiana was effective in Games 2 and 4, they were aggressive and limited damage on the defensive end against Miami.

Hill utilizes the pick-and-roll well and fades out to the 3-point line when he is not involved in it. Either way, Hill usually ends up getting involved heavily from mid-range or behind the arc. Stephenson is a freight train when taking the ball to the bucket in transition. Miami can not stop that if Stephenson gets more chances of doing that tonight. That is one of the main recipes for Lance’s success in their wins against the Heat.

If both players in Indiana’s starting backcourt get going tonight, expect the Pacers to force a Game 7. If they do not show up and produce duds like they did in Game 5, expect the Heat to celebrate an NBA finals berth.

Dwyane WadeCan Dwyane Wade score 20 points: Dwyane Wade has not reached 20 points in the playoffs since Game 2 against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round (12 games). This is by far the longest streak of Wade’s career in which he has not broken the 20-point plateau. If Miami wants to celebrate tonight, Wade might need to end this streak.

D-Wade has been hampered by bone bruises in his right knee during Miami’s playoff run. You can easily see Wade does not have his explosiveness from the regular season.

When we first saw the “Big 3″ come together in the Summer of 2010, we were debating who the star of the team would be. Now we know this is easily LeBron James’ team. During this round, it has become Cleveland Cavaliers 2.0. LeBron seems to be surrounded by role players, not stars.

LeBron needs some help from Wade, Bosh, or both (lightning can’t strike three times with Udonis Haslem, can it?).

Pacers have to limit turnovers: During this series, one of the key factors to defeat the Heat was limiting turnovers. In Indiana’s losses, they have not shown the ability to do that. In Game 5, the Pacers committed 18 turnovers. This was a back-breaker for Indiana’s chances to steal the game in Miami.

During their playoff run, Indiana is 1-6 when they turn the ball over 17 times or more.

Game 6, the Pacers will need their guards to take care of the basketball. No overthrows or slow lobs down into the post. They have to be smooth, crisp passes to not give Miami a chance on a fast break. Playing at a slower pace to dictate the game should also help out Indiana’s high turnover rate. They can not afford to play at Miami’s speed.

Playing with ballhandlers like Hill, Stephenson, and D.J. Augustin does not help their cause either. Indiana has not had a true, pass-first point guard since Mark Jackson. Yes, it has been that long.

The Pacers will not need Hill, Stephenson, or Augustin to become Jackson, but one of them will have to become something just below it to limit their turnovers and force an all-or-nothing Game 7.

Erik Spoelstra has to keep running Miami’s bread-and-butter play, HORNS: As seen during the third quarter of Game 5, LeBron took over scoring 16 points. He even outscored the Pacers 16-13 during the quarter. Miami’s third quarter, outscoring Indiana 30-13, turned the tide and led them to a win.

One set for Miami led their furious third quarter run, and it was a play called HORNS. It is when LeBron starts off about 20 feet away (the high-post) from the basket and players run sets to open lanes and shots for him. If he is not open, James can pass the ball off to a wide-open shooter from the 3-point line due to the extra attention on him.

Here are a few examples of Miami’s HORNS set that led them to a big third quarter during Game 5.

LeBron Horns 1

Miami starts off by having LeBron right outside on the high-post. Then, he gets the ball on Paul George and waits for Udonis Haslem to come over and set a quick ball-screen. Haslem then comes over to screen-off George, which creates a wide-open shot for LeBron.

LeBron Horns 3

Again, Miami goes back to HORNS after tying the score. Wade throws it once again to LeBron on the high-post against George. James then steps out and throws in to Wade, who is posting up Stephenson. George for some reason helps Stephenson and double-teams Wade. Dwyane throws it right back out to a wide-open LeBron, who drives straight to the basket. As you notice in the fifth screenshot, all of the Pacers’ eyes are on LeBron while he drives to the basket. All of the sudden, he kicks it out to a wide-open Mario Chalmers who hits a three-point shot to take the 56-53 lead over the Pacers.

LeBron Horns 2

For the third straight possesion, Miami goes right back to HORNS. They have LeBron on an island with George, but then they add a new wrinkle in. Wade comes on the same side of the court as James and screens for Mario Chalmers. Dwyane then gets the ball back and throws it over to LeBron, who is posting up Stephenson. An easy mismatch for Miami leads to James simply giving a quick head-fake and pulls up right over Stephenson for the easy jumper.

If Erik Spoelstra continues to run HORNS against Indiana, this time all game, they should be celebrating a spot in the Finals by the end of the night. Miami has run this play sporadically during this series, but not consistently.

The Heat coaching staff has to run HORNS to death against the Pacers, because Indiana simply can not stop this offensive set.

Perkins: James’ spectacular third quarter has Heat on verge of Finals

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LBJ cropMIAMI – NBA playoff games are rarely won in the third quarter. Thursday was an exception. LeBron James made sure of that.

James, the Miami Heat’s superstar forward and the undisputed Best Player on the Player, had 16 points, four rebounds, four assists and one block in the third quarter of the Heat’s 90-79 Game 5 Eastern Conference finals victory over Indiana.

“That’s LeBron showing his greatness and making it look easy,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Think about it this way: LeBron’s third-quarter stats were better than the entire night’s work for every one of his teammates, and six of the nine Pacers who took the court.