Quarterly Runs Allow Heat to Dictate Style in Game 3

by Wheat Hotchkiss | @Wheat_Hotchkiss

May 24, 2014

MIAMI – The Pacers couldn’t have scripted the start to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals any better. On offense, they fed the ball inside to Roy Hibbert and David West. On the other end, they forced Miami into seven early turnovers and didn’t allow the Heat any easy looks.

The result? A 19-5 lead with 2:42 remaining in the first quarter.

But the Heat responded, as one would expect the two-time defending champions to do, ending the first with a 9-2 run. It was a theme that kept repeating itself, as the Heat ended every quarter with a sustained spurt, pulling away down the stretch for a 99-87 win on Saturday night at American Airlines Arena. With the win, Miami takes a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

A Pacers-Heat series is the ultimate contrast in styles. Miami wants to force turnovers and get out in transition. Indiana wants to slow the game down with their halfcourt defense and play through the post on the other end.

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said prior to Game 3 that he felt it was important for his team to make the Pacers play their style of basketball. But it was Indiana who controlled the game at the outset.

“We looked like we were stuck in mud in the first quarter,” Spoelstra said. “That is a big credit to how they dictated the game. We can’t play this series on their terms.”

The game changed when the Heat figured out a way to play on their terms. They did so by stringing together a series of runs in the latter half of each and every quarter.

Miami outscored the Pacers 9-2 over the final 2:24 of the first to cut a 14-point deficit in half.

After eight points from Luis Scola helped the Pacers push the lead back to 15 midway through the second quarter, Miami strung together a 16-5 run over the final 6:22. During that stretch, Indiana committed turnovers on six of seven possessions.

The Heat finally took the lead in the third quarter, and stretched it to as many as seven points by closing the stanza with a 12-3 spurt over the final 2:40, hitting two 3-pointers and getting fouled on another attempt.

And after Indiana got back within two points with 7:55 to play in the fourth, Ray Allen scored 10 points as part of a 20-5 run that sealed the victory for Miami.

The Heat were ultimately able to dictate their style of play by picking up their defensive intensity and creating transition opportunities. That’s the winning formula for going on prolonged runs, particularly when you’re playing at home.

Other than their strong start, the Pacers weren’t able to sustain any runs of their own. And that was ultimately the difference between the two teams on Saturday.

“They’re going to make a run,” Scola said after the game. “We know that. We’ve got to be ready for it. We’ve just got to find a way to alter their run and make our own run after it…We just can’t let them get the momentum for such a long time and make their runs (so) big.”

Added All-Star forward Paul George: “This game is all about runs, and ultimately, the team that takes the biggest run or the last run is the team that's going to win. It's not about the first run.”

Those runs added up in the final box score. Indiana had committed no more than 13 turnovers since the start of the second round, but Miami forced the Blue-and-Gold into 19 giveaways leading to 26 points on the other end on Saturday night.

“We just had turnover after turnover,” Pacers guard Lance Stephenson said. “We were averaging 11 turnovers for about eight games. We had (19) tonight. That’s unacceptable.”

The Heat scored 15 fast break points to the Pacers’ six. Miami hit 10-of-18 attempts from 3-point range. And perhaps most telling, they outscored the Pacers in the paint, 40-38, thanks in large part to their ability to up the tempo.

When asked what was the turning point after the game, each Pacers player pinpointed a different one of the Heat’s spurts.

David West’s take: “I don’t think we closed the first quarter well. I thought we really had a chance to get some separation.”

Roy Hibbert’s viewpoint: “The second quarter. We were up big and I think we got a little comfortable. They picked up their pressure and it carried over for them.”

Paul George’s opinion: “Ray (Allen) got hot (in the fourth quarter), and they kept finding him in transition. That's really where he got his four threes and really broke this game open.”

Now, Indiana will head back to the film room to figure out exactly what needs to change for them to regain control of the style of play in Game 4. Even without looking at the film, the Pacers players know they need to do a better job handling Miami’s pressure and working the ball into the post.

“We’ve got to respond,” West said adamantly. “We’ve got to take better care of the basketball.”

Rasual Butler agreed. The oldest player on Indiana’s roster noted that not only did the Pacers’ turnovers allow the Heat to get out into transition (where they excel), but they also took away from the Pacers’ ability to work the ball into the post.

After Hibbert and West combined for 17 points in the first quarter, the Pacers’ frontcourt duo managed only 12 points over the remaining 36 minutes.

“We had some success getting the ball inside, but when you turn the ball over and you don’t handle pressure well, that’s what kind of takes you away from what you want to do,” Butler said.

The Pacers now find themselves in a 2-1 hole, making Game 4 on Monday night all the more important. Indiana can take solace in the fact they won all four times in the first two rounds this postseason after falling behind in a series. For whatever reason, the Pacers are a team that has shown they know how to respond with their backs against the wall.

Both the Heat and the Pacers have forced their style of play in stretches already this series. This series in all likelihood hinges on which team can do it for longer stretches.

On Saturday, that team was Miami. But given how dominant the Pacers have looked at other points in the series – particularly in Game 1, but also large chunks of Game 2 and even the start of Game 3 – the question of who will represent the Eastern Conference in the 2014 NBA Finals is still very much up in the air.

Despite Saturday’s result, the Pacers remain confident.

“They’re a championship team,” Stephenson said. “They’re going to throw punches at us. We’ve just got to respond…It’s a long series.”

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