LeBron James is sad. Just look at him. He’s sad because the Indiana Pacers need three things to happen if they’re going to beat the Heat:
1. They needed to take a game in Miami.
2. They needed one of the Big Three to get hurt.
3. They need LeBron to miss his free throws in crunch-time.
Guess what? Last night, the Pacers won a game in Miami. Chris Bosh is out for the series. And, from ESPN:
James missed two free throws with 54.3 seconds left and the Heat trailing by a single point. He is now shooting just 59 percent from the charity stripe this season in the final minute of one-possession games. The rest of the Heat have made 13 of 15 free throws under similar circumstances.
LeBron has long taken flack for his tendency to wilt at the end of games, and this is evidence that that flack might be more deserved than we thought. And without Chris Bosh, the Heat offense is reduced to only three dimension: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and a bunch of other dudes (Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller) standing around and shooting threes. Break one of those legs, and the stool falls over.
So, can the Pacers really pull this out? Probably not, but they have a chance, which is more than most people gave them. It’s pretty imperative that they win both upcoming home games in Indiana, because that will put them up 3-1 going back to Miami, and they’ll be able to clinch game 6 at home. (Realize this requires three wins in a row. I did say this wouldn’t be easy.) If they drop either game 3 or 4, that means they’ll have to take at least one more game on the road, and that’s too much to ask, most likely.
As far as personnel goes, Indiana’s best shot at outscoring the Heat — because you can rest assured that Miami’s not going to score 75 every night — requires strong play from David West. Without Chris Bosh, Miami is playing LeBron at power forward and generally going with an undersized, ramshackle big-man rotation. This makes West the x-factor: if LeBron guards him, it creates scoring opportunities for Danny Granger, and if LeBron doesn’t guard him, he has the chance to go off. Remarkably, the Pacers didn’t even play well on offense last night, shooting less than 40% from the floor; Paul George, George Hill, and Granger are all capable of better work than that.
Let’s face it: the Heat are far better than Indiana, and they’re probably still going to win. But fortunately, it won’t be as simple as we thought.