The Indiana Pacers’ Inability to Finish

photo credit: Basketball Schedule via photopin cc

The Indiana Pacers blew a myriad of opportunities in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. Most notably, they allowed the Heat to overcome a 15-point deficit for the second time this season.


photo credit: Basketball Schedule via photopin cc

photo credit: Basketball Schedule via photopin cc

Two nights ago, the Indiana Pacers blew a 15-point lead and a chance to take a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals. Frank Vogel’s squad were overwhelmed and allowed LeBron James and Dwayne Wade to outscore the entire Pacer lineup 47-45 in the second half. Moreover, Indiana blew the opportunity to steal a crucial game on Miami’s home floor. It was the second consecutive game this series that Miami re-calibrated their approach, began hitting shots they’re acclimatized to making, and suffocated the Pacers in the fourth quarter.

Despite holding the Heat to a season low 14 points in the first quarter and 38 points in the first half, Indiana imploded. After taking a 37-22 lead in the second quarter, Miami devoured the Pacers 77-50 the rest of the way. Again Miami was able to smother Indiana’s perimeter shooting. Again Indiana was unable to cover the Heat’s shooters, particularly Ray Allen—the best to ever shoot the 3-ball—who netted all four of his fourth quarter attempts from beyond the arc in Game 3.

Tuesday’s Game 2 was finished after James and Wade pounced and carved a 10-0 burst giving the Heat an 82-75 lead with 2:20 remaining. They didn’t wait as long Saturday to begin slicing. It was a new spin on the same narrative cast in Game 2: Indiana fell apart as soon as Miami reassembled their parts.

To say Indiana’s jump shots were abysmal Saturday would somehow seem hollow. Game 3 marked Indiana’s worst jump shot performance of the playoffs: 12-of-36 (30 percent). The Pacer quintet of Paul George, George Hill, Lance Stephenson, C.J. Watson, and Rasual Butler were a combined 1-12 on jumpers. Indiana’s jumpers weren’t abysmal; they were ice positioned in the back of an atomic refrigerator.

The frontline trio of George, Hibbert, and West scored all 21 points for Indiana in the first quarter, but became lackadaisical late. Lance Stephenson allowed 11 drives to the basket while defending; Paul George allowed 7. Indiana knows fully that allowing Miami to gash the interior of their defense leaves them susceptible to open looks from outside of it. It didn’t matter.

Understandably, it’s an easy play to correlate Indiana’s foil to Miami’s ability, and I’m not saying the Heat’s late-game tenacity isn’t a significant portion of Indiana’s problem. But the Pacers are a step shy of a Hallmark card sent to those who also cannot put the final postage on the package. Indiana has grown accustom to blowing leads; they’ve blown three leads of 15 or more this season. In mid-December, they blew an eerily similar 15-point lead—ironically—against Miami.

Ian Levy of Hickory High brilliantly posited the holistic ramifications of imbalance down the stretch for Indiana, during the thick of their regular season collapse.

“Everything the Pacers do relies on consistent side-to-side ball movement, sharp cuts, precise passing, lots of screening and an opportunistic transition game. When any of those elements are not done exquisitely the others are also robbed of their effectiveness. Mistakes and carelessness get compounded and the whole house of cards comes crashing down around them.”

Levy’s point on precision can be traced to stamina and fourth quarter energy. Without fresh limbs, your passes begin to waver. Lacking energy often yields apathetic approaches to screening. Having played 46 of a possible 48 minutes (Lance Stephenson), yields the antonym of an opportunistic transition game.

A lion’s share of Indiana’s horrendous second half of the regular season was attributed to an inability to focus for 48 minutes. Just as the case was when shots stopped falling, Indiana turned to lazy fouls and allowed Miami the uncontested jumpers that crippled the Pacers late. There’s a reason why the Heat haven’t shot less than 50 percent every game this series.

As Frank Vogel stated after the game, “We didn’t manage our foul trouble well and didn’t manage their defensive intensity well. I thought we attacked appropriately but didn’t finish in plays, and obviously turned it over a little too much and let them get going.”

For the first time this postseason, Indiana will have to stomach the weight of losing two consecutive games (1-5). This has been their crux all season, particularly in the second half when mounting losses pigeonholed Indiana into folding streaks and monthly collapses. Historically, the Pacers are 1-8 all-time in playoff series when trailing 2-1. They were ousted by Miami last season, and haven’t made the NBA Finals in 14 years.

Game 4 signals the Pacers’ chance to throw a different plot in the face of analysts and media personnel who have already written the epilogue.

Time to finish or vacate, Indiana.

Josh Planos

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Josh Planos hopes to one day write about sports like the millennial version of Cormac McCarthy; he's working on it. His work has been featured at Washington Post, Denver Post, ESPN TrueHoop Network, SB Nation, Bleacher Report, Buckets Magazine, and Rivals. Currently, he writes for Washington Post Sports, BallerBall of the ESPN TrueHoop Network, FanSided, and The Pick and Roll. He loves interacting with readers via Twitter. Leads can be sent to jplanos1@gmail.com | Portfolio: josh-planos.squarespace.com | Tweets by @JPlanos

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