What a great series! The ending was a little weak, but I think we all suspected there would be at least one game where Miami turned Indiana over 20+ times and got 15-20 more free throws. Which is not credit the refs with last night’s result. Miami played with aggression and grit for the first time since game 3, and they actually out-rebounded the Pacers. They earned the win and the chance to go back to the Finals and defend their title.
I’m sure it comes as small consolation to the Pacers and their fans, and you can never take success for granted, but they had a really phenomenal playoff run. Their defense was top-notch throughout, and they showed an ability to adapt on the fly and attack opponents with mismatches. They made it to game 7 of the conference Finals and the defending champs. In my memory teams who have pulled off that feat – 1987 Detroit, 1990 Chicago, 2005 Heat all come to mind – go on to make and / or win the title the following year. And with a few tweaks the Pacers could be good enough to do the same.
Paul George looks like one of the top wing players in the game, and with a summer to work on his ball-handling could be even more complete next year. David West demonstrated again how valuable a multitalented low-post muscleman is in the NBA. Roy Hibbert was a revelation in the conference finals, mostly because of his improved stamina. He has always been able to take advantage of smaller defenders in short bursts, but his sustained excellence against Miami was one of the big differences in this series compared against the semi-finals last year.
Overall Indiana needs to improve its handles. George Hill, who has been great for them since coming over, is not a pure point guard, and Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole (and Dwyane Wade and LeBron James) showed that ball-pressure bothers him. Lance Stephenson and Paul George are great athletes, but not great at controlling the dribble in space or against aggressive defenders. A back-up point guard would go a long ways to correcting these problems. I’m not sure who’s going to be available (Jarrett Jack is, but I don’t think they can pay him and re-sign West), but that’s got to be a priority. I’m less worried about back-up bigs. Ian Mahinmi and Tyler Hansborough while not offensive stars by any means give consistent effort and have an impact on the game.
Getting Danny Granger back will pay big dividends as well. This team was one or two extra buckets off the bench away from winning games 1 and 5 in this series. Granger could provide those points and then some and maybe help with their floor spacing issues AND give them an option to run out a smaller, more transition-friendly squad once in a while.
For the Heat, this series was about effort. When they matched Indiana’s toughness and intensity, their superior talent shown through, and they won. When they failed to match the Pacers’ effort level, they lost. And frankly, they got outworked in game 1, and LeBron / Frank Vogel’s odd coaching decision saved them. Hopefully, the Heat have been woken up by all this and will come into the Finals against San Antonio with consistent energy and drive.
I’m not sure what to expect from this Finals match-up. The Spurs will run their constant continuity and exploit Tony Parker’s PHD in pick and roll execution. The Heat will continue to rely on LeBron in the post and in the high pick and roll sets to create looks for their jump shooters. It reminds me a little of the old Kings / Lakers rivalry where Sacramento would attack LA from all 5 positions with their complex high-post passing, while the Lakers battered them to death with their inside – out game utilizing Shaquille O’Neal’s ability to draw double teams to open up the game for everyone else. Defensively, the Spurs like to play man-to-man with very little strong double teaming (like the Pacers), and they have athletic wings with size and a long starting front line (like the Pacers).
One wrinkle the Heat could use to throw off the Spurs is putting LeBron on Tim Duncan. Yes, Timmy could abuse James in the post (I’m sorry to all the fans and pundits who think LeBron can shut down anyone. He can’t. If he could, David West, Roy Hibbert, and Paul George wouldn’t have all had successful series against the Heat while he guarded Lance Stephenson most of the game). However, the Duncan / Parker pick and roll would be essentially nullified because James could blitz Parker and even switch the defense and absolutely hold his own against the diminutive speedster. And even though Duncan COULD score inside against LeBron, that is not the Spurs normal game plan these days, and trying to exploit the mismatch in lieu of running their normal pick and roll offense might disrupt their excellent continuity and limit the value of their role players who are used to Parker spoon feeding them open shots.
It will be an interesting series for certain. Hopefully it lasts as long and has as much drama as the Eastern Conference Finals did.
Tags: 2013 NBA Playoffs, conference finals, Danny Granger, David West, Dwyane Wade, Eastern Conference Finals, game 7, George Hill, Ian Mahinmi, Indiana Pacers, Jarrett Jack, Lance Stephenson, lebron james, Mario Chalmers, Miami Heat, nba finals, Paul George, Preview, roy hibbert, San Antonio Spurs, tim duncan, Tony Parker, Wrap-up