LeBron took over the game in the third quarter. He took complete ownership. You could argue that the Pacers relinquished control, playing a terrible brand of offense throughout the quarter as Miami ramped up its aggressive pressure, but it the game’s best player simply became unstoppable.
He scored at will and remained as calm as a docile Pacific Ocean, finding teammates for open jumpers whenever the Pacers defense collapsed on his as he entered the paint. It wasn’t even bad Indiana defense. At some point, after Udonis Haslem hits jumper after jumper, you probably have to mix it up, but as much as LeBron was in control, he would have probably scored on those drives if the defense didn’t collapse.
The Pacers stuck to the scheme, cutting off his drives and making him take jumpshots. And then, when he did get by his defender and get into the lane, they prioritized cutting off the layup as opposed to going all out on denying shooters. It’s a sound strategy, over the long term, and what they’ve don all year.
But Miami hit 9-of-13 outside the paint (including 6-for-7 in the midrange) in the third quarter while shooting 72.2% overall in the period.
Here is the Heat’s third-quarter shot chart.
That’s just insane. And it was mostly created by LeBron James being LeBron James.
The Pacers knew they might be in for that: an unbelievable performance from the four-time MVP.
Unfortunately, the Heat used this offensive onslaught to move their confidence needle to the red line, and proceeded to also start playing a suffocating, pressure defense that took the Pacers out of everything they wanted to do.
If you want to blame the back court for their bad play — criticism George Hill and Lance Stephenson definitely deserve — blame them mostly for their inability to initiate offense in the third quarter.
Here is the Pacers’ third-quarter shot chart.
They made just 3-of-14 shots (21.4%) while committing 5 turnovers (that led to 9 Heat points).
Hill’s foul trouble was a factor. He was forced to sit for nearly 7 minutes in the period, and D.J. Augustin added no production nor ran the offense well while on the floor.
But that poor execution was the difference.
Given LeBron’s domination and Miami’s hot shooting in the quarter, it’s doubtful the Pacers end the third ahead no matter how well they run their offense. But by completely falling apart, they gave themselves not chance to survive the MVP’s onslaught.
He was that good. Indiana’s offense was that bad.
Moving backwards, you have to like what the Pacers did in half one.
Indiana’s front court combined for 39 points on just 28 shots in the first 24 minutes. They were getting the looks they wanted and were in control of the game. Had a few more layups gone down — Indiana shot 6-for-15 in the restricted area in quarters one and two — they could have gone into the break up by double digits.
But they didn’t.
And that left the door open for LeBron to do his thing.
How did he ever.
Indiana did show some resilience in the fourth quarter, cutting what was a 13-point deficit down to 8. In fact, what made it just an 8-point game was a rugged Tyler Hansbrough putback. But on the play Hansbrough landed awkwardly on (I believe) Shane Battier, and was forced to the locker room.
It was a 5-0 Pacers run to start the fourth.
But the subsequent timeout brought LeBron back in to the game, because Spoelstra had had enough, and West back into the game because Hansbrough was injured.
I don’t think West was ready to re-enter the game, stamina-wise.
He needed another minute of two.
West looked gassed late, and while that was by no means the primary cause of Miami out-scoring Indiana 20-17 the rest of the way, it may have had some effect. Moreover, the Pacers were just in too big of a hole to climb back. In a perfect world, it was possible, but not with Indiana’s offense looking as stagnant as it became and not with LeBron being as in control of the game as he was.
So, yeah, that was the difference.
The Pacers now need to win Saturday night in Indiana to force a Game 7.
They have the horses to do it, no doubt.
They just need to execute much better than they did in the third and not miss as many good looks as they did in the first half.