Following a Game 5 loss where we witnessed LeBron James enter complete dominance mode, the Indiana Pacers are staring at elimination as they head home for a Game 6. Now, the Pacers will need two consecutive victories against the defending champions for a chance at a title against the San Antonio Spurs.
Great players sometimes have a way of “getting theirs” regardless of what opponents can draw up to stop them. Despite the solid defensive efforts of Paul George on the perimeter and Roy Hibbert providing help at the rim, the entire Heat attack started and ended with LeBron for much of the game. This was evident through his 30 points and 6 assists, and trickled down to increased production from Udonis Haslem. In the third quarter, when LeBron scored or assisted on 25 of the Heat’s points, he was essentially unstoppable.
Still, to best position his team for a Game 6 victory, Frank Vogel will have to make a few tactical adjustments. While the Pacers may not be able to stop James, there are ways that the Pacers can force Miami out of its comfort zone and limit LeBron’s dominance.
We asked some of the contributors to this site to offer their takes on what adjustments Indiana can make.
Here are those responses.
Put Miami Bigs in Foul Trouble
A large part of Miami’s offensive effectiveness in this series has been a result of its big men providing enough spacing for LeBron and Dwyane Wade to operate. With Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem being able to operate further away from the rim, the floor opens up for Miami’s ball handlers to create in space. David West and Roy Hibbert were forced into committing with help defense in the paint caused by LeBron’s penetration in Game 5, which allowed Haslem to make a living in the mid-range game. With Bosh and Haslem both in the lineup, help defense comes at a price.
However, the Heat are not particularly deep when it comes to big men. After Haslem and Bosh, the remaining options are Chris Andersen, Joel Anthony, and a completely washed up Rashard Lewis. While Andersen has been effective, he provides zero spacing and needs to work almost exclusively around the rim. If the Pacers can get Udonis Haslem or Chris Bosh in foul trouble, big issues arise for the Heat. With smaller lineups featuring Shane Battier at power forward and Andersen at center, the spacing that is so crucial to the Heat’s attack is seriously compromised. At the same time, the Pacers create a huge advantage on the offensive end with Battier forced into guarding David West in the post. To do this, Indiana needs to look to attack Bosh and Haslem early, either in the post or through a heavy dosage of pick and roll. West and Hibbert are good enough where this should hardly be an inconvenience. The Heat have proven to be very good at what they do, but they lack the depth they need to do it once you dig into their bench.
– Mark Evans
No Reinventing the Wheel
We’re 99 games into the season, so there will be no reinventing of the wheel to be done here. The key will be the guards, and at the risk of being reductionist, George Hill and Lance Stephenson need to come out aggressively.
Hill needs to be a scorer tonight. If Miami is not going trap or blitz the pick and roll, then he needs to turn the corner and attack the lane.He needs to put pressure on Miami’s defense, and he does that by scoring points.
Stephenson, like Hill, needs to exploit the pick-and-roll defense, if the opportunity arises. But, more importantly, he has to push the ball. Coach Frank Vogel is constantly pleading for his team to play with pace, and that largely boils down to Lance. It seems that both he and his team need one or two of Stephenson’s full-court bull rushes to get their blood running. Otherwise, both Lance and the team tend towards timidity and indecision in their half-court offense.
If the guards are spectators tonight, the Pacers will be spectators after tonight.
– Tim Donahue
Back Court Aggression
By the time you reach Game 6 there are no earth shattering adjustments that any coach can make. Both teams know each other well. LeBron James is going to continue to be the best basketball player in the world. Roy Hibbert and David West are going to continue to have huge advantages inside over Miami’s much smaller front line (especially in light of wacko Birdman’s much deserved suspension).
The one change that the Pacers can make must come from the players. Simply put, the Pacers’ backcourt needs to show up for this game. George Hill and Lance Stephenson must make the commitment to be much more aggressive offensively. That not only means shooting and driving to the basket considerably more than in Game 5, but also handling the ball with confidence and avoiding silly, unforced turnovers. I am firmly convinced that if Hill and Stephenson decide to show up tonight, the Pacers will force a Game 7 in Miami.
– Alex Yovanovich
Although it’s certainly less than ideal to implement a new defensive scheme this late in the season, Frank Vogel should at least consider the use of a situational zone. While Erik Spoelstra makes a conscious effort to keep a fair amount of shooting on the floor most of the time, there are situations where a Pacers zone could work.
If the Heat use a lineup including both Norris Cole and Anderson, a squad of George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, Ian Mahinmi, and Roy Hibbert would supply a strong balance of quickness, length, height, and defensive prowess to take Miami out of their rhythm in short stretches. If LeBron has another run like he did in the third quarter of Game 5, this could be a decent way to at least force Miami out of their comfort zone for a few minutes.
– Mark Evans
Every fiber of my being tells me that the Pacers don’t actually need to make any adjustments – they’ve won 16 of the 20 quarters in this series, and you could make a compelling argument that they are unlucky to be down 3-2.
However, I think one strategy would be interesting: The Pacers should rope-a-dope LeBron.
Adolph Rupp historically believed that Pistol Pete and his LSU Tigers were far more dangerous when he became a playmaker and got his teammates involved. Kentucky was one of the few teams that refuses to double team the Pistol, and because of that he often lit them up for 50 or 60 points. He also never once beat the Wildcats.
LeBron has been extra special in Games 1, 2 and 5. The Pacers should have won two of those games. What makes the Heat unbeatable is when their role players – Haslem, Allen, Anderson, and Battier – get involved and give them 20 to 30 “bonus” points in a game.
I would like to see Frank Vogel and the Pacers defend LeBron as if he were any other small forward for the first three quarters. Paul George won’t shut him down, and he might get to 40, but if the rest of the Heat haven’t gotten involved, the Pacers would be in great shape. Then, in the 4th quarter, the Pacers could change their strategy and revert to what they’ve been doing. Haslem might be less likely to make five straight shots if he hasn’t gotten a look all game.
LeBron once averaged 38 points per game in an entire series – and his team got soundly beaten by the Magic. The Pacers can live with LeBron’s scoring. They can’t beat the Heat if their entire team is running on all cylinders.
– Jon Washburn