May 13, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) shoots over Indiana Pacers small forward Danny Granger (33) during the second half in game one of the Eastern Conference semifinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Miami won 95-86. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Winning Formula: Eastern Conference Playoffs, Round 2

Woot! It may have been gnarly, but the Pacers got things done last night vs. the Chris Bosh-less Miami Heat. These are the things they’ll need to focus on in order to take a 2-1 series lead:

1. Come Out Firing. Through two games the Pacers have shown that they’re the better-prepared team. They jumped out to leads early in both contests, but couldn’t sustain them in either, losing outright in game 1 and relying on a third quarter explosion and some fourth quarter luck to get it done in game two. The Pacers’ reserves can’t even be blamed for the slump that started midway through game two’s first quarter, and seemingly lasted until halftime; the starters were perpetrators as well. The team just couldn’t shoot, going very cold and missing several good looks at easy mid-range scoring opportunities and wide open threes. Yes, the Miami defense was as good as it usually is, but Indiana went on a monumental slump that they didn’t break out of until outscoring the Heat by 14 in the third. That simply can’t continue. The Pacers have to push hard to keep early leads or eventually Miami’s (read: Dwyane Wade and LeBron James’s) talent will eventually be too much of a mountain to climb.

2. Halftime Adjustments. Frank Vogel did an excellent job calming his team down at halftime. The game looked decided early on; even though the Heat were only up by five at the half, they were clearly in control, and had momentum going into the break. Indiana had 5 assists to 12 turnovers in the first half, but it was a completely different story in the second, as the Pacers logged five more assists to just five more turnovers. While that number isn’t gaudy, Miami relies on forcing turnovers to get a big portion of its points, and by reducing their turnovers by 60% in the second half, the Pacers were able to more freely dictate the game’s pace, and keep the Heat from even taking the lead, let alone taking the lead and running up the score. If the Pacers jump out of the gate better on Thursday, and make the right adjustments at halftime, they could blow the doors off and really send a message to the Heat.

3. REBOUND! Indiana was a much better rebounding team in game two than it was in game 1. The Pacers outrebounded the Heat by 10 on Tuesday after losing the rebounding battle on Sunday. That was crucial. Without as many second-chance opportunities, the Heat were relegated to the pressure of having to score on every possession. That’s a huge advantage that the Pacers have by default, given that Chris Bosh is injured and the Pacers were a bigger, better rebounding team to begin with. Another +10 rebounding advantage would go a long way to keeping Indiana easily within striking distance on Thursday, and potentially allowing them to walk away with the win.

4. No Pants Crapping. Since Miami makes so many opponents look bad off of turnovers, it’s important to not get flustered. Thus far, while the Pacers’ offense has been far from perfect in this series, it’s done one thing very well, and that’s been to stick to the game plan. The Pacers have dictated the pace and refused to succumb to the temptation to attempt to run with Miami, which is something Indiana cannot do. After turnovers they’ve remained settled. Now they just have to execute and hit open jumpers. The Pacers have gotten a lot of jitters out of their system by playing hard through two road games and winning one. Hopefully now they can come with a more polished approach and execute more effectively in game three, while avoiding late game confusion that has plagued them to some degree all year.

5. Free Throws. LeBron James may be the one kicking himself over two missed clutch free throws on Tuesday, but let’s not forget that the Pacers have failed to live up to their lofty regular season free throw standards through two games this series. Vs. Miami, Indiana is floating just over 70% from the free throw line after shooting it near 80% during the regular season. Compounding that general issue is the fact that most of the Pacers’ misses seem to come during crucial, high-pressure situations. Paul George, George Hill and Roy Hibbert have all been guilty of this recently. The Pacers need to take a deep breath, calm down, and do what they do better than almost any other NBA team, and that’s knock down free throws, high pressure or not. Playing at home will, with any luck, help the Pacers out in this regard.

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