The Indiana Pacers took a surprising 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals last night. What went wrong for Miami?
Defense is clearly where the game was lost for the Heat. Giving up 107 points to the Pacers is something they have not done since Josh McRoberts and Mike Dunleavy Jr. graced Indy’s starting lineup.
Their Game 1 porousness started with none other than LeBron James, who had several of the kind of halfcourt defensive lapses that close inspectors of his game have become accustomed to seeing this season.
Here, guarding David West, LeBron compromises the team’s defense with a kamikaze steal attempt. Chris Bosh is forced to help on West, who nicely lays it off to Hibbert for the basket and the foul:
Here, again guarding West, he needlessly helps on Paul George in the corner, again allowing West to attack the basket, this time for two points of his own:
Here the Heat switch on the C.J. Watson/Luis Scola pick-and-roll, but LeBron never makes any attempt to actually guard Watson, who waltzes to the rim for an unmolested layup:
Here he assumes bad position and loses George on a simple back cut to the basket for an easy layup:
James says that he should be Defensive Player of the Year. His fans lap that talk up like a cat laps up milk, buoyed by his unearthly chase-down blocks and the idea that he guards all five positions. It is bogus. LeBron is one of the more reliable and impactful defenders in the league as far as perimeter superstar scorers go (hello, James Harden, Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving), but the fact that he occasionally guards big men and the odd point guard (with mixed success) does not entitle him to DPOY honors. That would be disrespectful to the likes of Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah and Tim Duncan who are called upon to anchor their team’s defense night after night without lapses.
LeBron’s slip-ups were by no means the only Heat missteps on that end yesterday, mind you.
Here Shane Battier, who looks well and truly washed up, trips over himself and allows George an open three:
Here Mario Chalmers helps too aggressively on the ball, leaving his man (George Hill) open at the three-point line just one pass away despite Hill having already hit his first two attempts from long distance. Money again:
The Heat have cause for concern on offense too.
James had a curiously sub-par game on that end. He seemed hesitant to attack the basket, particularly when Hibbert was in the game, and occasionally settled for the kind of ill-advised shots he has thankfully worked to move away from over the past three seasons in favor of higher percentage looks:
That he still finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds on 11-for-18 shooting is testament to his greatness, but when a place on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore is potentially in play we must nit-pick and grade his performance by the harshest scale. He will need to put forward a much better effort on both ends in Game 2.
Chris Bosh’s continued struggles
I wrote after Game 4 of last year’s Conference Finals about the disappearance of Chris Bosh. The observations in that piece continue to apply.
In his nine games versus the Pacers since that Game 4, he is averaging 9 points and 34% shooting.
His Game 1 statline was true to form: 32 minutes, 9 points, 2 rebounds, 0 blocks, 4-for-12 shooting.
I charted Bosh’s fourth quarter on offense for emphasis. He had just five touches, shot 0-for-2 from the field and was primarily used as either a floor spacer or a screener for LeBron and Wade.
These were the only two plays run for him:
He needs to convert those looks into points, which he did not. He was open, and those are his shots. But that is the issue: he has become a 6’10” floor-spacing jumpshooter for this team, and those shots aren’t falling against the Pacers.
As it was last year, it is unfair to pin his poor statistics entirely on some kind of lack of effort on his part. This is a horrific matchup for him defensively where he must expend an incredible amount of energy trying to guard Hibbert and West in the post, as well as keeping them off the offensive glass and making up for LeBron’s lapses in help situations.
Here West just bullies him to the rim for an easy score:
This bruising existence on one end no doubt takes away from his output at the other, as does his limited (though tried and tested) role in the offense. Those fans who say he must simply “turn up” in Game 2 are ignoring these key intricacies.
It is to Bosh’s great credit that he does not bemoan both his mammoth defensive responsibility and his lack of touches on offense. Force-feeding him the ball and encouraging him to attack off the dribble could help boost both his points total and his confidence, but if there was an easy fix Spoelstra would have implemented it by now.
Bosh and Heat fans may just have to grin and bear it for a week or two as he continues to struggle individually whilst being a good soldier for the team. The Heat beat the Pacers without him putting up 18 points or 9 rebounds once in last year’s seven-game series. They can do the same this year.
Unusual lineup sightings
In the third quarter, the Heat trotted out a curious no-point guard lineup of Wade, Allen, James, Battier and Andersen:
A little NBA.com advanced stats digging reveals that this was just the 208th most used lineup of the season for the Heat, having played just two minutes together all year. Unsurprisingly it lasted just a minute and 36 seconds in this one.
The Pacers countered later in the third with a head-scratching lineup of their own, going to the dual-point guard group of Watson, Hill, George, West and Mahinmi. This was their 111th most used lineup of the year, and was guilty of giving up an 8-0 Miami run.
It is not the time for experimenting, but in the chess match that is a playoff series, these things can happen – particularly between two teams as stylistically different as these two. The Heat must find a way to combat Indiana’s size, rim protection and rebounding, and the Pacers must find a way to combat the Heat’s speed, fluidity and blitzing defense.
So far, so good for the Pacers and it looks like we have a very competitive series on our hands, but the Heat are no strangers to coming back from a 1-0 deficit.