The Indiana Pacers secured their place in the Eastern Conference finals with a 106-99 victory over the New York Knicks. The Pacers are in position to make their first finals appearance in 13 years, but first will have their toughest challenge in the juggernaut Miami Heat. The Pacers have always been a thorn in the back of this dominant Heat team and Indiana’s young players performing at top form might be enough to stop the South Beach powerhouse.
Indiana’s Game 6 victory over the Knicks showed a lot of what the Pacers will have to do to beat the Heat. While the Knicks were able to stay in the game by scoring in spurts and using the three ball, the Pacers were consistent in attacking the paint and not allowing any easy buckets on defense. When J.R. Smith followed three consecutive Iman Shumpert three’s with a three of his own to tie the game at 72 in the third quarter, momentum seemed to shift all towards New York. However, the Pacers stuck to their gameplan and played to their strengths, which are in the post.
Roy Hibbert finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds and with Tyson Chandler being in constant foul trouble he was able to control the paint. Another significant turning point was Hibbert’s rejection of a Carmelo Anthony dunk attempt with New York leading 92-90 with 5 minutes remaining. The Pacers then went on a 11-2 run to send the Knicks packing.
While the Knicks also did falter in the second half as team everyman Carmelo Anthony only had 4 points and a couple of careless turnovers in the 4th quarter, at a time when his team needed him the most. Carmelo didn’t receive much help from the supporting cast either. Amare Stoudemire and Jason Kidd were benched almost the whole game, Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin provided no post presence as both fouled out, and Raymond Felton wasn’t the reliable point guard he usually is. Shumpert and Chris Copeland’s combined 8-12 3-pt shooting was the only real complement to Anthony’s 39 points.
However to say that the Knicks lost this game more than the Pacers won it would be a disservice to the fantastic team play of the Pacers. Each of the five Pacers starters scored in double figures, with Lance Stephenson stepping up to have the biggest game of his career finishing with 25 points and 10 boards. The team also played fantastic individual defense as the Pacers refused to double team Anthony which lead to no wide open looks for the Knicks.
So where will the Pacers look to attack if they want to get past the Heat? The first thing they must do is limit transition opportunities. They are well equipped to do this. The Pacers play one of the slowest tempo games in the NBA as 106 points is a barnburner for them. They also get a ton of offensive rebounds. Indiana hammered New York on the offensive glass in Game 6 and of the 16 playoff teams they are first in offensive rebounding (Miami is 11th).
The Pacers should also be able to attack the Heat down low. The Heat usually go with a small lineup, playing Chris Bosh at the Center position. This will work to Indiana’s advantage as the 7’2’’ Hibbert could make easy work of Bosh. A David West-Shane Battier matchup could also work in the Pacers favor.
However the Pacers do need to work on some things in they want this series to be competitive. They must limit their turnovers because if they don’t the Heat will run all over them. In their Game 5 defeat, the Pacers had an exorbitant 19 turnovers. That’s far too many fastbreak opportunities for the Heat, as the Pacers will not be able to give up easy buckets. They must play smart, methodical ball and attempt to keep the games in the upper 80’s/lower 90’s.
Lastly, the Pacers must find some production from their bench. In Game 6, Indiana’s bench only managed to score 8 points compared to New York’s 31. And when the Heat have the likes of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis coming off their bench, Indiana must find production from theirs. Sam Young’s 5 points and solid defend was a decent contribution, but for his performance there was Tyler Hansbrough’s. In 11 minutes the only thing he contributed to the stat line was 2 turnovers and 3 fouls. He has to come in, finish around the basket, and scoop up rebounds. DJ Augustin also has to be a reliable backup for George Hill.
The Indiana Pacers are certainly not the favorites in this series against the Heat. However, if there was any one team in the East that matches up well with the Heat it’s this Pacers team. They prevent fastbreak chances, they pound the offensive glass, and they attack you from down low. Those three qualities are exactly what will stop the Heat from playing to their style. Not to mention that almost everyone outside the state of Florida is rooting for them. Put it all together and we might see the tyrannous run of the Heat come to an end.