How the Heat Took Advantage of the Hibbertless Pacers

norris cole

(Editor’s note: This is the first post for 8p9s by Ben Gibson, who has written about the Pacers at Dorkballer. Follow him on Twitter @CowboyOnPatrol)

The Pacers have the best defense in the league, but when 55 was subtracted from the equation on Wednesday night against the Heat, the result was a 97-94 Miami victory.

Foul trouble rendered Roy Hibbert near irrelevant, playing only 22 minutes overall and fewer than 10 in the second half, during which he couldn’t play in his normal vertical style of defense with five fouls. Frank Vogel chose to leave him in after he picked up his fourth foul and Hibbert was not able to stay on the court, picking up his fifth soon after and being forced to sit for the next 14 minutes of action.

That was devastating for the Pacers defensive strategy.

Instead of Hibbert camping low and protecting the paint while the rest of Indiana’s defense remained disciplined and didn’t over help, the Hibbertless Pacers didn’t have the ease of knowing the rim was protected.

The Heat took advantage.

Dywane Wade decided he wasn’t as old and busted as we think he is and led the way with a 15-of-25 shooting performance and 32 points. Wade drove to the basket 12 times in the game, and by my count when Hibbert was in the game, Wade was 4-of-11; when he was out, 4-of-8. (These figures don’t include Wade’s breakaways that nobody had any chance of stopping.) It should be noted two of the made baskets against Hibbert late in the game came with timid defensive help from a center that had five fouls.

While Wade did his work,, Chris Bosh quietly racked up 15 points and Lebron scored 24. If you watch, especially in Bosh’s case, he took advantage of either Roy not being there, or was open from further out as Indiana worked to stop another driving player.

One thing that normally gets overlooked thanks to Hibbert’s play is the way Indiana can patrol the arc and shutdown 3-pointers. The Heat have shot 39.5% against the the rest of the league this season, but shot only 19% (4-of-21) during their loss to the Pacers on December 10. On Wednesday night, they shot 35.7% from deep. This came after they the Heat went 5-of-13 in the second half behind the arc after missing all eight of their first-half attempts. No surprise, then, that 3 of these makes came as the defense was collapsed inside the arc. Bosh’s three to tie the game came when David West and Paul George worked too hard to close down a baseline driving LeBron and left the Heat center wide open.

All this seemed much different than the last go around.

In Indiana’s December 10 win it was Mario Chalmers along with Wade and LeBron that pushed it to the paint hard, trying to draw fouls and taking what are normally high-percentage shots. But you would see Hibbert sliding over to help on penetration. That last line of defense wasn’t there late when he was in foul trouble. The Pacers looked like they were trying to protect Hibbert from picking up a foul. Instead of being league’s biggest asset on defense, he became a liability.

These numbers show the impact him not being there , but Roy’s effect is hard to quantify at times. The eye test reveals certain other things, however.

On a drive with about five minutes left in the first, LeBron traveled on his way to the basket while trying to create space against Hibbert. Did Hibbert cause that? Hard to say, but LeBron knows shooting over Hibbert is no easy task. It is anecdotal, but you wonder how much a shooter thinks about the 7’2″ center. As Henry Abbott of TrueHoop noted last postseason, LeBron usually often avoids direct confrontation with Hibbert. You’ll see LeBron pull up or pass out more often when Hibbert’s in the game. When he isn’t, James — and other Heat players — will drive further to the basket, which earns them a closer shot and opens up more of the court.

The Pacers still play good defense without Hibbert, but when the load-bearing big man isn’t on the court, you tend to see more breakdowns as Indiana overplays to try to stop the Heat.

This only reenforces how important home-court advantage will be in the playoffs. Maybe Hibbert doesn’t get into foul trouble as easily (although two of the fouls were just dumb on Roy’s part). Maybe George gets a call on that 3-pointer at the end. You have a better shot of getting the whistle at home. But don’t complain about the refs, the Heat just took advantage of what was available.

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Tags: Foul Trouble

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