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May 16, 2012
Playoff Prospectus
Missing Man

by Dan Feldman


Indiana 78, at Miami 75 (Series tied, 1-1)
Pace: 84.8
Offensive Ratings: Indiana 92.5, Miami 88.0

The Heat, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in particular, played incredible defense in the first half. Miami held the Pacers to 31.7 percent shooting and forced 10 turnovers as Indiana scored just 33 first-half points. LeBron and Wade smothered the Pacers' wings so effectively that the simplest cure to that type of defense--more ball movement--was rendered ineffective. Who do you pass it to when nobody can get open even while cutting without the ball?

But the Heat's defense came at a price. LeBron and Wade often drifted offensively, saving their energy for defense, and Miami's offense didn't fare much better. The Heat shot just 39.5 percent, scoring 38 points and leading by just five when the out-of-this-world defense suggested Miami should have built a comfortable advantage.

In the second half, LeBron and Wade came to regret those wasted first-half offensive possession. As Indiana spread around its offense, the Heat put more of the load on LeBron and Wade, who couldn't handle all the extra weight.

If nothing more, the Pacers proved LeBron and Wade must show up on both sides of the court to win this series.

Miami can win when LeBron (28 points) and Wade (24 points) each score more than their teammates (23 points), even if that's not an ideal formula. But it's troubling when the Heat's Big Two shoot just 18-of-44 (40.9 percent)--though, LeBron and Wade got more aggressive in the second half, when they took 17 of their 23 free throws.

The most-talked-about of those free throws will probably be LeBron's two misses with 54 seconds left. The discussion of LeBron's clutch play will likely ignore that Wade missed his final four shots, but really, it's all inconsequential. Missed free throws happen, and they're not necessarily due to fear of the moment. LeBron and Wade's play in the closing minutes wasn't an outlier relative to their play the rest of the game.

To free LeBron and Wade, Erik Spoelstra played a small lineup for most of the game. Miami used three big men tonight--Ronny Turiaf, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony--and aside from the beginnings of each half, when Turiaf and Haslem played, only one of those players saw the court at a time. In those situations, the Heat's quicker players swarmed the Pacers defensively, but offensively, Miami didn't produce the up-tempo offense that would be expected. The Heat finished with just six fast-break points.

Still, Miami's small lineup was effective (ignoring the game's final 32 seconds in this portion, because the Heat was intentionally fouling and both teams were subbing offense for defense), especially when it didn't have to worry about Roy Hibbert. Although Hibbert (eight points and 11 rebounds) didn't make a huge direct impact on the game, he greatly influenced Miami's small lineup.

  • Hibbert off the court: Heat 26, Pacers 16 in 14:09
  • Hibbert on the court: Heat 32, Pacers 32 in 21:01

As in Game 1, Miami aggressively fronted Hibbert. But when the Heat had only one player on the floor capable of guarding Hibbert, that made defensive rotations difficult. When Turiaf and Haslem played together, the one guard Hibbert could rotate off him and the other would pick him up. When just one of Miami's bigs was on the floor, switching off Hibbert would've left a mismatch.

So although Indiana's offense was very balanced--David West (16 points), George Hill (15 points), Danny Granger (11 points), Paul George (10 points), Hibbert (eight points), Leandro Barbosa (eight points) and Darren Collison (six points) each scored more than Miami's third-leading scorer, Mario Chalmers (five points)--the presence of Hibbert was particularly important. He often turned Miami's fronting into very successful screens that allowed his teammates clear paths to the basket.

So how much can Hibbert play? His 33 minutes were the most since he played 34 in the Pacers' first game of the playoffs, and he averaged fewer minutes per game in the regular season than any All-Star this season. Relying on Hibbert to play more might not be Indiana's safest bet, but it still might be the Pacers' best bet.

That discussion also highlights where Miami misses Chris Bosh. He would've allowed the Heat to simultaneously play two players capable of defending Hibbert without putting two non-scorers at the four and five. Bosh also might have provided Miami an offensive boost while LeBron and Wade focused on defense in the first half.

But Bosh likely isn't returning anytime soon. LeBron and Wade are each capable of being elite offensively. They're also capable of being elite defensively. To get past Indiana without Bosh, they might need to be both in the same game.

Dan Feldman is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Dan by clicking here or click here to see Dan's other articles.

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