The irresistible force paradox is formulated as “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object”. If the Miami Heat are an unstoppable force, then they might have found an immovable object. The Indiana Pacers had the best defensive efficiency in the NBA this year. However, the paradox is just that, a paradox. Adjustments will be made, heads will collide, and something has got to give. Will Erik Spoelstra and the Heat freely shift into their high gears or will Frank Vogel and his boys force Miami into neutral and reverse?
Most of the ardent observers of the NBA had the New York Knicks and Miami Heat penciled-in for the Eastern Conference Finals. The problem is New York played like they were guaranteed to get there, and the Pacers played like they just heard Apollo Creed slap them around and tell them “There is no tomorrow!”
Well, the Pacers get their date with Mr. T, and the Knicks get to visit their tattoo artists a couple weeks early. The Heat are where everyone expected them to be, seemingly unscathed, minus a round opening home-loss setback against the Bulls. That series started off like a horror movie for Miami, turned into an action flick starring Nazr Mohammed (with Lebron James playing his own stunt double), then ended as a comedy when we saw the level of talent Chicago had on the floor in the crunch time of a professional sports playoff game.
The Pacers on the other hand took off everyone’s blue and orange colored glasses. They opened our eyes and enhanced our peripherals to the mess that is New York. They forced Carmelo Anthony into tough fadeaways every possession. J.R. Smith went from looking like a reliable scoring commodity, to having the blue book value of a 1988 Toyota Tercel. Which brings us to this point in the playoffs, where the different identities meet and the Eastern Conference champion is crowned.
Many things have changed since these teams last met. Lebron is now considered a playoffs “closer”, Ray Allen now has a reserved parking space on the corner 3 area of the floor, and Norris Cole is turning into a more reliable option for Miami off the bench. None of these bode well for Indiana, especially since the last thing a defense team that packs the paint needs is arguably the greatest 3 point shooter ever waiting on the wings in crunch time They would typically pack the paint against a team like this because a player like Lebron who is typically considered gun-shy in the 4th, would struggle to score when the lane is closed down and only the mid-range is open. After last year, all that has changed. Lebron can force his way inside, and if there isn’t enough space, he has a couple moves now that he’s crafted over the summer that he can utilize to get the ball in the basket when he is more than 10 feet out. Usually those moves were “dunk” and “lay-up”.
For Indiana, Hibbert is becoming more of a presence inside, on both ends of the floor. Paul George is on the cusp of becoming a household name, and the PG position is more solidified and reliable with George Hill at the handle. Indy struggled against Miami last year at the end of games because only David West had a decided offensive advantage, mostly due to the strength advantage he had over his opposition. Granger was the next best option in my opinion, but with him out they will need Paul George to play past expectations to even have a chance.
What hasn’t changed is the health of Dwyane Wade and the advantages that both teams clearly have over their opposition. Wade dominated at times in last years series, but his knee is clearly troubling him. I imagine he will struggle to get open against Indy, and when he does get an open path to the lane, he will have a hard time scoring over Roy Hibbert. When Wade drives to the hoop, he will need a lot of great off-the-ball movement from Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem in order to net positive plays. If I am the Pacers, I want the ball in Wade’s hands over Lebron’s. Wade’s athleticism and health is dwindling. A star player usually tries to test his limits when Father Time is approaching, and Frank Vogel should prefer Wade test this out in the Eastern Conference Finals, rather than watch Lebron James assert his will to a further extent.
Each team’s advantages are clear. Miami has a bench, Indiana doesn’t. Miami has the speed and athleticism, and Indy has the inside presence. The Pacers are going to have to dominate the boards and be able to simultaneously play great help defense and recover against Miami’s infamous perimeter ball movement and great interior passing to even have a chance at being to compete in the 4th quarter. A lot of these games will be close in the closing minutes because Indiana has the ability to defend against Miami’s strengths to a certain extent. The last few minutes will decide the outcome of these games and Indiana is going to have to find ways to score when Miami puts their full court press on Indiana. This means avoiding offensive fouls due to excessive aggression in the post, avoiding turnovers in trying to attempt risky passes to bust through Miami’s stellar defense, and being able to knock down open 3’s when Miami’s defense occasionally shows chinks in its armor.
Miami doesn’t have to play to its potential all series to win. Indiana has to play beyond its potential to get this to a 7th game. The X-Factor for Indiana is clearly George Hill. Miami’s weaknesses are at the C and PG positions. Indiana has to win these matchups by a wide margin in order to offset the discrepancy in the bench production between the two teams. Roy Hibbert likely will because the teeth of Miami’s defense is its rare weakness. Hill has to infiltrate Miami’s D at its strongest point, the perimeter. A tall task for any guard. If the refs let the teams play, I’ll take Indiana in 7. Most likely that is not going to happen, which in that eventual case, I’ll take Miami in 6. The Pacers need to throw a hay-maker in Game 1 just to get ahead of the curve, and they can’t afford to misfire.
“You throw a shot at the King then you best not miss”.