The question I kept asking myself while watching Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers was: Does anybody out there look like a championship team? The answer was a resounding no, after seeing both teams do their best to give the game away. There was a moment with 4 minutes to go in the 4th quarter where it looked like Indiana was about to fold under the pressure and let the Heat win going away. But both teams shot a combined 5-14 from the free throw line down the stretch, with LeBron getting the brunt of criticism for missing two crucial ones.
There’s plenty of blame to go around, and some must center on Heat coach Eric Spoelstra. He hasn’t been able to cope with the loss of Chris Bosh, as evidenced by playing Joel Anthony for 35 minutes and all of crunch time. Basically, that is 4 on 5 for the Heat, and against a good playoff opponent, it won’t get it done. If Anthony was getting 15 rebounds and 4 blocked shots, maybe he balances out his lack of ability on the offensive end. But he managed just 6 rebounds and a couple of steals and blocks. If Spoelstra feels he can’t put Turiaf or Haslem on Roy Hibbert down the stretch, than he’ll have all summer long to ponder this. Hibbert scored all of 8 points, and none down the stretch, as the Pacers didn’t even look at him once in the post. I give little credit to Anthony for this, and the trade off is so great, the Pacers can load up on Wade and LeBron, care free that Anthony, or any other Heat player for that matter, won’t hurt them.
So here’s what we’ve learned after two games:
Paul George needs to be the primary defender on LeBron James. Danny Granger has gotten into foul trouble and has been generally ineffective while guarding him. This has also affected Granger’s offensive game, since the brief flicker of light we saw from Granger came in the 3rd quarter when Paul George guarded LeBron.
David West can handle LeBron James down low in the post. Without Bosh in the lineup, the Heat are forced to put LeBron on him, since there isn’t anyone else with the size and strength to keep him out of the lane. That said, West was able to do damage anyway, and the Heat may be forced to double on him. Spoelstra doesn’t like to double down on the post, and he also seems to dislike adjustments as well.
Wade and James combined for 44 shots, the rest of the team 34. If this trend continues, Miami gets beat. Period. Spoelstra must find a way to let LeBron and Wade make their teammates better. The offense has no flow and ends up isolating for them too often. It’s much easier for Indiana to defend this way.
Now that Indiana has homecourt advantage, it remains to be seen if they can hold onto it. They haven’t played very well either, and to have stolen a game from Miami is certainly cause for celebration. If Frank Vogel can come up with one more adjustment to get the ball into the post versus the fronting Heat defenders, particularly for Roy Hibbert, than the Heat will have to ponder another season without a championship. If they get through this round, you can bet the Celtics are waiting and watching, and will give them an even greater challenge.