The Eastern Conference semis are underway. The Indiana Pacers managed to tie their series with the Washington Wizards after a dominant performance by Roy Hibbert in Game 2. Meanwhile, The Miami Heat appear to be in cruise control as they easily blew by the Brooklyn Nets in Game 1, and continued to rally in Game 2. But these are the NBA playoffs where anything can happen. A slight drop off is enough for the opponent to take the series away. Our Akshay Manwani looks at the keys to each series in this gallery.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Indiana-Washington: Series tied 1-1
Which Roy Hibbert will turn up for Indiana? If itís the Game 1 Hibbert, who failed to produce a point or rebound in 18 minutes, then the Pacers might go down. But if it is the Game 2 Indiana center, who scored nearly as many points in Game 2 (28) as he had in the previous seven games combined (29), then the Pacers will dominate.
Trevor Ariza and John Wall have to play big. In Game 1, when Ariza was 7-for-10 from the field, including 6-for-6 from the 3-point line, the Wizards won. On the other hand, Ariza was only 2-for-8 in the Wizardsí Game 2 loss. Wall is another matter Ė the Washington playmaker has gone only 6-for-27 (22.2 percent) in two games.
Paul George cannot afford to let up. The Indiana All-Star has shot just 30 percent (9-for-30) from the field in two games, going just 1-for-8 from behind the arc. One of the reasons the Pacers could get past Atlanta in the first round despite Hibbert being a non-factor was that George played at a high level. Now as the competition gets tougher, George cannot let his form dip.
Miami-Brooklyn: Miami leads 2-0
Which teamís bench plays better? In Game 1, the Miami Heatís reserves combined for 12-for-21 (57.1 percent) from the field, with Ray Allen alone going for 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting. Brooklynís reserves, on the other hand, combined for a poor 12-for-30 (40 percent) shooting performance. In Game 2, Ray Allen showed up again in a big way. Coming off the bench, he logged 28 minutes and scored 13 points, including shooting 3-for-5 on 3-pointers. Brooklynís Mirza Teletovic set a playoff high with 17 points, but it wasnít enough to shut down Miami. The Netsí reserves are a big part of who they are, and Brooklyn will continue to look for a better performance from them as the series progresses.
Brooklyn has to do a better job of protecting the paint. In Game 1, the Nets gave up 52 points to the Heat in the paint. And it wasnít even that the Heat were getting and compiling paint appearances on fast breaks ó they finished with just four fast break points. Miamiís success was fueled by ball movement and player movement, and the Nets just never matched their level of activity. In Game 2, the Nets had some momentum in the first half, but Deron Williams struggled all night with scoring. The Heatís main man, LeBron James, kept his eyes on the prize. He scored 22 points on 9 of 18 shooting, grabbed 4 rebounds, made 3 assists, snatched 2 steals, and got 1 block to take the Heat to a 2-0 lead over Brooklyn.
Finally, can Brooklynís vets keep up their energy and intensity all through this series? We know that Brooklyn is among the older teams in the league. The fact that they have just managed to get past a keenly contested seven-game series against Toronto, means that they are up against a Miami team, which had a whole weekís rest heading into the Eastern Conference semis. Where can Kevin Garnett and co. find that extra energy to challenge this Heat team and make it an interesting series?