All season long, the third quarter has been a huge strength for the Pacers. It was easily their best quarter throughout the regular season. They out-scored their opponents by 9.1 points per 100 possessions in the third this season. If that number doesn’t mean much to you, try this. If the Pacers were able to maintain their third-quarter dominance throughout all 48 minutes in every game this season, they would have have gone 66-0 while beating their opponents by an a larger average margin of victory than did the Bulls, which led the league by posting an average differential of 8.2 points per game.
Safe to say that would have made some headlines.
Obviously, no team can sustain such dominance for so long, but the Pacers have actually been even better — way better — in the third so far in the playoffs. In five games, they out-scored the Magic 127-84 in the third (scoring at a rate of 116.9 points per 100 possessions). That equals a total of 43 points, or 8.6 points per game. Considering Indiana out-scored Orlando by 54 points for the entire series, it’s safe to say that it was their third quarter play more than anything else, that won the series.
Here are the advanced stats on how they performed in the first round, via NBA.com.
Pacers Performance vs. Magic by Quarter 2012 Playoffs
After Game 4, David West tried to explain why Indiana is able to dominate in the third. “As a group, we come out [of half time] feeling like no matter what score is — if we’re up, down, whatever — we feel like we can impose our will,” said West. “That’s a moment in the game where a lot of teams come out flat or have to get their engines revved up again. We feel like we hit the floor running.”
Regardless of the reasons, this is one area where the Pacers have an over-whelming edge.
Because Miami sorta sucks in the third quarter.
Look at this chart.
Jared Dubin of Hardwood Paroxysm did the research and made this chart, which shows the Heat’s offensive and defensive ratings by quarter throughout the regular season. See where the blue line makes a S&P-500-in-2008-like drop? Yeah. That is Miami’s offensive performance in the third quarter.
Miami destroys teams in the first half of games. They outscore their opponents by 9.3 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter of games and 14.5 points per 100 possessions in the second quarter. But after halftime, their offense falls off a cliff during Erik Spoelstra’s halftime speeches, to the point that the Heat become simply an average team on offense in the second half of games. The score at just 0.28 points per 100 possessions above the league average in the third quarter.
In the 2012 playoffs, while beating the Knicks in five games, they have stepped it up well above league average.
Heat Performance vs. Knicks by Quarter 2012 Playoffs
The Heat certainly weren’t bad against the Knicks in the third quarter. But it was their worst quarter other than the first quarter. And it was the quarter when they turned the ball over the most and allowed the most offensive rebounds, which is another key to winning for Indiana. The sample size here is too small to draw any real conclusions, but it could be encouraging for Vogel in the sense that Miami certainly hasn’t been a third-quarter behemoth like his team has. Neither in the playoffs so far or the regular season.
Here are the actual point differentials each team posted in their first five playoff games this year. As you can see, both have been better than their opponent but the Pacers’ dominance has been much greater. Each team has only been out-scored once in the period but the Pacers have blown the game open in the third on three separate occasions while the Heat have only posted a double-digit edge once.
Ultimately, the third-quarter performance numbers paint a clear picture on how the Pacers should plan to beat the Heat: (1) survive Miami’s early, first-half onslaught, (2) come out of the locker room with everything they’ve got, and (3) try to play them slightly better than even in winning time.
It is a road map that is much easier to write than it will be to follow.
But it is perhaps Indiana’s best route to victory.