For the first time in a series that could have overwhelmed them from the start, the Indiana Pacers looked lost in Game 7 against the Miami Heat on Monday night. The defending champions rolled to yet another NBA Finals with a 99-76 win at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Pacers led 21-19 after the first quarter, but had nine turnovers in the opening frame as the Heat attempted 28 shots. Miami shot 28.6 percent in the first, but stepped up to hit 45.8 percent of their attempts over the remainder of the game.
Miami took over in the second quarter. They outscored the Pacers 33-16 while going 10-for-17 from the field, including 4-for-8 from deep, and a perfect 9-for-9 from the foul line. Indiana committed six turnovers, giving them 15 for the first half, and after dominating the boards in Game 6 they corralled just four rebounds in 12 minutes. They didn't rebound any of their nine missed shots in the period.
Indiana didn't immediately fold after the half, trading buckets with Miami for a stretch, but they couldn't get closer than 12 and the lead ballooned to 76-55 heading into the fourth. They simply couldn't score enough and the struggles were exacerbated by foul trouble for the first time in the series.
Paul George and Roy Hibbert were both limited by fouls in the second half, forcing Frank Vogel into some tough decisions. It's a little early to disrespect this season by looking at the offseason, but adding to the bench (in conjunction with the supposed return of Danny Granger) will do wonders for Indiana's ability to push to the next level and win more often coming from behind.
A majority of the talk heading into Game 7 centered on whether LeBron James would have to take over -- or if Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would produce enough for the Heat to survive a significant scare from the Pacers.
Wade did enjoy his best game of the series -- 21 points on 7-for-16 shooting and nine rebounds -- but ultimately the LeBron didn't need any help. James had an effortless 32 points and eight rebounds on 17 shots. He went 15-for-16 from the line as Erik Spoelstra focused on blitzing the paint consistently for the first time in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Bosh struggled yet again, going 3-for-13 from the field, but he had eight rebounds and presented enough of a threat to help spread out Indiana's defense.
The Pacers were strong in terms of field goal defense, holding Miami to 39.1 percent shooting, but didn't work hard enough on the defensive glass (15 offensive rebounds for the Heat). Indiana was also crushed at the foul line as Miami was the aggressor from the opening tip. The Heat were a tremendous 29-for-32 from the line.
Paul George Shrinks
Just 48 minutes from what would have been just the second NBA Finals appearance in franchise history, Paul George needed to at least battle LeBron James on the game's biggest stage. Instead, the first-time All-Star had easily his worst performance of the playoffs when his team needed him most.
George, who fouled out, went 2-for-9 from the field (seven points) with seven rebounds and four assists. He had just two points and an assist in the second half.
He was dominated by LeBron, which happens to the best of this generation, and must once again look to a series loss to the Heat for ways to improve. If he is as hungry as he seems, George should watch Game 7 on repeat.
Moving to his natural position of shooting guard, if Danny Granger does play another game for the Pacers, and adding some strength to his upper body are relatively easy fixes that would work wonders. He is such a great defender and a few additional pounds will only help him try to contain the LeBrons of the league.
George should also continue to work on both his jump shot and ball-handling skills.
The Pacers are far from polished offensively, but 21 turnovers are obviously far too many. Miscues on that end of the floor only help the opposing team get high-percentage shots, especially when they are of the live-ball variety. Indiana has an elite half-court defense and they want to employ it as much as possible.
There has been some talk about the Pacers looking for an additional ball-handler after George Hill struggled under any sort of pressure in the postseason. That seems like a knee-jerk reaction, given Hill's size and the commitment they made to him last summer. He could have played better, especially in this series, but he's 27 and Indiana doesn't need him to be an elite point guard. Also, if he was used in a three-guard lineup alongside George and someone else, he'll be undersized and that would remove Indiana's vital size advantage in the shrinking NBA.
David West led the club with six turnovers on Monday night and while not all where his fault, the offense itself struggled with ball control because Miami did such a great job defensively. For a majority of the first half, and part of the third, the Pacers had a difficult time simply initiating the offense inside 30 feet.
Where They Won, They Lost
The recipe for success was simple for the Pacers through the first six games, dominant in the paint and on the glass and at the very least they'd have a chance to win in the final moments.
Miami hit Indiana where it hurt in the deciding game, drawing even in points in the paint. The Heat led 28-16 in that category through three quarters before the Pacers were able to scuff it up a bit with the game decided. The defending-champions also had a +7 rebounding edge, including a 15-8 advantage on the offensive glass. Miami outscored Indiana 17-4 in second-chance points.
Help For LeBron
LeBron didn't need much help, but did have more support with the season on the line. Wade had his first 20+ point performance since Game 2 of Miami's first round series against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Norris Cole and Ray Allen also provided a nice punch off the bench, allowing the Heat to increase their lead in the second quarter when LeBron got a short rest. The duo combined for 18 points on just 10 shots. Allen's 3-for-5 performance from deep was especially encouraging with the NBA Finals approaching. He shot 26.8 percent from three in his previous 11 playoff games.