It all comes down to this. Game 7. A trip to the NBA Finals to face the San Antonio Spurs on the line. The Indiana Pacers haven't played a Game 7 since 2005 when they beat the Boston Celtics to keep Reggie Miller's basketball career going for one more series. They haven't been to the Finals since facing the juggernaut Kobe/Shaq-led Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2000. This Pacers team is in uncharted territory.
To earn the right to compete for the title, the Gold Gang have to be at their best to Beat the Heat on their home floor with their backs against the wall. The Pacers are playing their best when they are able to do the following:
· Control the Boards – It’s pretty simple: when the Pacers have taken advantage of their size and convincingly won the rebounding war they’ve won each time accept for Game 1. When the Heat are able to stay competitive on the boards, the Pacers don’t do so well. Aside from Paul George, the Pacers have been less than stellar shooting from outside this series. Offensive rebounding allows Indiana to earn extra possessions, score points in the paint with put-backs and get open 3-point attempts on kick-outs versus a scrambling defense. On the defensive side, rebounding is key for almost the exact same reasons. It’s important to limit Miami to as few shot attempts as possible and keep Chris Bosh, Birdman Andersen and whatever other big bodies the Heat can throw out there from getting easy buckets. And with knockdown shooters like Ray Allen, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and Dwyane Wade, the Pacers can’t allow loose balls to lead to open threes for Miami.
· Value Each Possession – The Miami Heat are built to force turnovers and convert those turnovers into easy transition points, usually by way of a thunderous Lebron James dunk. This season the Pacers have been one of the more turnover-prone teams in the league, but have done a good job of cleaning up the turnovers this series and not allowing Miami to get out and run. Obviously, fewer turnovers mean more shot attempts, more shots mean more chances to score. But the impact is doubled when considering this takes 8-12 easy fast-break points away from the Heat as well. This game is likely to be decided by five points or so. The turnover ratio will give you good insight on which team holds the advantage.
· Dance with Who Brought You – Indiana has gotten this far in the series mainly due to the play of its two ascending stars, Roy Hibbert and Paul George. While Hibbert has been a fairly consistent 20+ points, 12+ rebounds performer through the first 6 games, George’s output has shown more peaks and valleys. Paul George has made the highlight-reel plays (putting both Birdman and Bosh on posters in separate contests, as well as nailing some DEEP threes) but has also gone M.I.A. for long stretches of games. For the Pacers to have a chance of eliminating the Heat on their home floor, big games from both George and Hibbert will be needed. Look for Roy to be aggressive getting post position and for Paul to attack the rim to get a rhythm going.
There you have it. If the team gets star performances from the star players, solid contribution from veterans David West and George Hill, and the best version of the Coney Island Cyclone Lance Stephenson, the Indiana Pacers will shock the world… although, if you’ve been paying attention it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Game 7 tips off tonight at 8:30 on TNT. My prediction – Pacers win 95-91.
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