Sometimes, it’s difficult to assess where blame ends and where giving credit begins. This is especially true when breaking down a lopsided sports contest, in this case the Miami Heat’s 114-96 blowout of the Indiana Pacers in Sunday’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Should blame be placed on Indiana for allowing 70 first half points, or for shooting under 40 percent from the floor at home? Or should Miami be lauded and praised for committing just five turnovers and making the necessary adjustments to avenge Friday night’s loss in Game 2? This column will focus on the latter, because not enough credit was given to Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra after Sunday’s big win.
This is oversimplifying this series, but Miami has won both games when it’s won the battle of points in the paint and when it committed fewer turnovers. Spoelstra’s big adjustment between the second and third games was to put LeBron James in the post to free up other players. Boy, did it work.
James had a relatively quiet night for his standards, scoring just 22 points to go with only four rebounds, three assists and six free throw attempts. But look at what his teammates did!
Udonis Haslem had only scored 13 points in a game twice all season, against Milwaukee in the first round and on Dec. 12 against Washington, but reached that number in the first half before he ended up with a season-high 17. Birdman Andersen continued his incredible postseason by scoring nine points on 4-for-4 shooting while corralling nine rebounds.
Haslem and Andersen scored as many points, 26, as Indiana’s starting backcourt of George Hill and Lance Stephenson. Blame assigned? A little bit. Credit given to Spoelstra and his players? Absolutely.
“I made a conscious effort to get down in the post tonight, to put pressure on their defense,” James said after the game. “The coaching staff wanted me to be down there tonight, and my teammates allowed me to do that.”
Putting James down low allowed him to be the fulcrum for the Heat offense, and it fine-tuned a Miami attack that is nearly impossible to stop when really rolling. Miami’s number of 3-point attempts shrunk from 22 in Game 2 to 14 in Game 3, and its point in the paint increased from 40 (even with Indiana) in Game 2 to 52 in Game 3 (to Indiana’s 36).
“It was something we wanted to get to just to help settle us and get into a more aggressive attack,” Spoelstra said. “We wanted to be a little more aggressive, a little more committed to getting into the paint and seeing what would happen. LeBron was very committed and focused not to settle.”
Dwyane Wade didn’t settle either, with 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting to go with eight assists. Chris Bosh was 6-for-10 from the floor. After a fairly quiet run of several games, Mario Chalmers scored 14 points despite attempting just six field goals. Knicks fans used to watching Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith could appreciate that kind of efficiency.
Blame could certainly be assigned to Indiana. For its poor shooting effort at home, especially Stephenson and Paul George. George had a really bad night, shooting 3-for-10 from the field, turning it over five times and registering a game-low -17. The bench continues to be a dried up well in the scoring department after only netting 16 points to Miami’s 28.
Indiana still did a few things well. The team turned it over only 10 times, which is really good for them, took 44 free throws and was plus nine in rebounding.
Ultimately, however, credit needs to be given to Spoelstra, James and the Heat. For turning it over only five times on the road, in the conference finals. For shooting 54.5 percent from the floor and 24-for-28 from the line. For making the exact right adjustments at a crucial juncture in the series.
“If you’re not perfect guarding them, they’ll do what they did to us tonight,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Sometimes when you are perfect with your coverages, they still find a way to make baskets.”
In the back-and-forth nature of a best-of-seven series, now it’s Indiana’s turn to make the adjustments before Tuesday’s Game 4. And the players know it.
“LeBron can’t get five or six dribbles to get a post move,” Pacers Center Roy Hibbert said. “We have to make adjustments. He’s obviously a low-post threat but we have to make adjustments.”
Spoelstra and the Heat made the adjustments going into Game 3, and it paid huge dividends with a resounding 18-point road win and a tectonic shift in momentum in this series towards Miami. Your move, Indiana.
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.