Practice Notebook: Pacers Hope to Stand Up to "Big Brother" In Game 4

by Wheat Hotchkiss | @Wheat_Hotchkiss

May 25, 2014

MIAMI – After three games in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals, the Pacers find themselves in a familiar place.

Two years ago in the conference semifinals, an upstart Indiana squad took Game 2 in Miami and blew the Heat out back in Indiana in Game 3. Miami responded by winning the next three games in convincing fashion to eliminate the Blue-and-Gold.

In last year’s conference finals, the Pacers got a split in Miami to start the series (they would have won both games if not for LeBron James’ buzzer-beating layup in Game 1), and headed home looking to take control of the series. But the Heat beat Indiana by 18 points in Game 3, and though the two teams exchanged wins the rest of the series, the Pacers were never able to regain the upper hand.

This year, the Pacers strung together a dominant performance in Game 1. But Miami ground out a win in Game 2 and then won Game 3 Saturday night comfortably.

Once again, the Pacers managed to get the upper hand early in the series only to have the Heat quickly snatch it back.

Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said at Sunday’s practice that he compared his team’s history with Miami to a little brother/big brother relationship at that morning’s film session.

“The little brother spends his whole life getting beat up by the big brother, getting beaten in sporting events, one-on-one basketball and what not,” Vogel said. “And all them years of getting beat up builds them up to the point where they ultimately take on the big brother. That’s what we’re hoping to do.”

When asked if he drew that comparison from personal experience, Vogel confirmed that his brother Justin, two years older than Frank, always got the upper hand in their childhood battles in New Jersey…until he didn’t.

“I have an older brother and he used to kick my butt in one-on-one all the time,” Vogel said.

The Pacers head coach then smiled as he added: “No longer, though.”

Vogel’s team seemed to like his analogy. Guard Lance Stephenson said going through the adversity of “getting beat up” by the Heat “makes us better.” Meanwhile, forward Paul George said that this year’s Pacers team isn’t content to continue to let the Heat push them around.

“These guys beat us up so many times, it’s about time we start getting angry and want to seek revenge,” George said.

The Pacers are hoping the time has come for them to stand up to their older sibling. When it gets to this point in the playoffs, the ever-increasing media coverage tends to exaggerate each game’s results.

But Indiana take pride in its ability to maintain an even keel. They’ve proven an ability in the first two rounds this postseason to tune out outside voices and band together when facing adversity. If national pundits have started to pencil Miami into the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year, the Pacers haven’t noticed.

“We’re pretty upbeat,” forward David West said Sunday. “We don’t get down on ourselves. We understand that it’s a new day and the next game is a different game. (If) we even the series up, everything that’s happened before that really doesn’t mean anything. Our focus is to come out, put together our best game of the series in Game 4, and hopefully get out of here with a win.”

Pacers Need George To Stay On Court, But Not to Match LeBron

One of the most consistent lines of questioning at Sunday’s practice was whether the Pacers needed more from George. Some reporters floated the idea to several members of the Blue-and-Gold that Indiana needed George, a 24-year old two-time All-Star, to match the offensive production of Heat superstars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

To a man, the Pacers dismissed that line of thinking.

“We’re not built the same way that they’re built,” West said. “We don’t want Paul forcing and thinking that he has to do too much. I think everybody’s got to step up. Everybody’s got to play a little bit better.”

George finished Game 3 with 17 points, but 11 of those came in the fourth quarter. He went 5-for-13 from the field and 1-for-6 from 3-point range, finishing with two rebounds and four assists.

Meanwhile, James scored 26 points on 9-for-14 shooting to go along with five rebounds and seven assists. Wade added 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting, four boards, and four assists.

Both George and Vogel said that Miami’s defensive game plan in Game 3 made it difficult for the Pacers’ leading scorer to get many good looks.

“Whether it’s a pin-down, a pick-and-roll, almost anything involving someone setting a screen for me, they’re pretty much just trapping and double-teaming,” George said.

Vogel concurred: “They’re making a conscious effort to double-team every kind of screen that we throw at them. So he becomes a facilitator, and that’s okay. We don’t want him forcing action.”

Vogel added that the Pacers need to be “more creative” in finding ways to get George shots without drawing double teams. George maintained that he needs to do a better job of executing on isolation plays when he gets a one-on-one matchup.

But George wasn’t the only Pacers player who struggled in Game 3. The team combined for 19 turnovers, which resulted in 26 points for Miami. George had just two of those.

Lance Stephenson hit just 3-of-9 shots. Indiana was unable to continue getting the ball inside to West and Roy Hibbert, who combined for 17 points in the first quarter but totaled just 12 over the final 36 minutes. And both George and point guard George Hill battled foul trouble for much of the night, with George playing just 32 minutes and Hill just 21.

For George, that foul trouble was more vexing than anything the Heat did to him defensively. He said he was “real frustrated” by having to watch significant chunks of the game from the sidelines. Vogel said that while the Pacers don’t need George to give them 30 points to have a chance to win, they do need him to stay on the court.

“(George’s absence) severely impacts us,” Vogel said. “He’s probably our most important player. A lot of our guys are important. But for what he gives us on both sides of the court, with his scoring, and not just his defense but the primary matchup on LeBron James, to have him on the bench certainly limits us.”

2014-15 Season Tickets »
Guarantee 2014 Playoff tickets with a deposit on 2014-15 Season Tickets