After a thrilling game one it seems like we may be in for an Eastern Conference Final match up between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers that could rival the intensity and chippiness of the two teams’ Eastern semifinal last year.
And what with all the noise made over Frank Vogel’s pre-series comments, leading all the way through the possession-after-possession thrills of the fourth quarter and overtime (and the questionable decisions made during said time) this latest clash could even top last year. But are any real theatrics in the making though? Indiana couldn’t close the deal last year with Chris Bosh unavailable for most of the series and with a 2-1 lead, after losing Game 1 in such heartbreaking fashion could we possibly expect any true test of the champs from this team?
Supplying some of the answers we’ll need for the rest of this series is journalist Rob Smith, sports editor of the Venice (Fla.) Gondolier Sun and a contributor to PageQSports.com. Like in our Western Conference Rep Yo Set post, we’d have liked to have gotten an opposing view from a Pacers representative but it wasn’t too easy to find one (surprise, surprise) so WARR Editor (and avowed Bulls fan) Kyle Means will play the role.
1. Miami in its Big 3 era has yet to play a truly classic series, even when they lost to Dallas, it wasn’t that compelling (on the court, at least). Could this series with Indiana be that true championship test? If you think so, why?
Smith: It could be, because the Pacers’ strengths are the Heat’s weaknesses. Roy Hibbert and David West will give the Heat fits all series (45 pts, 14 rebs combined in Game 1), particularly when Udonis Haslem is on the floor. Indiana’s lack of depth, however, will ultimately either (A) wear down the starters, or (B) force guys like DJ Augustin and Sam Young into important minutes they’re nowhere near qualified to play, as we saw during the last possession of Game 1.
Means: No, we won’t see a true test of the Heat’s mettle in this series. Miami needs to face a deeper team with more intense, disciplined defenders on the perimeter than the Pacers have (yes, I’m leading here– San Antonio? Memphis? Please?), they also need to face a better tactician (Pops?) in the coaches box than Frank Vogel — between the unfortunately drawn plays involving players like Sam Young and the kidnapping of Roy Hibbert late in overtime we’ve been exposed to just how limited Indiana is in comparison to the Heat. If not for Paul George than this would be an embarrassingly lop-sided series. Of course without George, Indiana wouldn’t even be here.
2. What are you loving about your team entering this series and what from the other side has you scared as hell?
Smith: The emergence of the Birdman (he doesn’t like to be called “Chris,” and I don’t want any trouble with the guy) has been the story of the second half of Miami’s season. The Heat are 49-4 since Bird made his debut, and minutes that were once filled by Joel Anthony are instead going to someone who is a top-5 center on a per-minute basis.
Keeping the Pacers off the offensive boards should be the No. 1 concern for the Heat. Indiana was the league’s fourth-best offensive rebounding team, and it’s no secret Miami has had its issues protecting its own glass. Frankly, Chris Bosh can’t have any more two-rebound games.
Means: I have to reiterate, Indiana isn’t my team, but I love George. It was interesting to see the evolution in thought over this year regarding George being seen as a true star in this league and steadily he has ingratiated himself with fans with his athletic play and reliability in clutch situations. Game 1 was a fantastic showcase for him despite the overplaying of LeBron in the final play, but he couldn’t have been expected to keep James from out the paint area by himself in that situation.
Nothing scares me about the Heat at this point, there’s nothing to not be expected from them — they’re not a boogie man, they’re a suspiciously benevolent and powerful figure, like the Governor on “The Walking Dead” prior to his zombie daughter getting taken out by Michonne. Now, let Indiana try to get in their heads again and then we’ll see some stuff to be scared about, eye patches and all that.
3. What on-court matchup do you think will define this series?
Smith: The Hibbert-Bosh matchup has already defined the series thus far, and will continue to do so. If Miami can get Bosh’s midrange game going, it should (theoretically) draw Hibbert away from his preferred camping spot near the hoop and open things up for Miami’s slashers (LeBron and Wade) to get to the rim and/or foul line. In Game 1, Frank Vogel wildly overreacted to the possibility of Bosh getting open in the final 2.2 seconds and replaced Hibbert (a defensive specialist making max money, mind you) twice in favor of Tyler Hansbrough, both times getting burned for his overcoaching.
On the other end, Bosh needs to keep Hibbert from piling up offensive rebounds like he did in Game 1, when he created seven second-chance opportunities for Indiana.
Means: I like the James-George matchup strictly for star power sake, but we’ve definitely seen from a strategy standpoint that Hibbert-Bosh will mean the most in the series, with wildcards Birdman and Tyler Hansbrough being thrown into the post scrum when needed as well as West. Also, check out Battier, he may be a marked man after his errant knee in Game 1.
4. Did LeBron overreact to what coach Vogel said about the Heat being the next team up? Was Vogel wrong for saying it?
Smith: LeBron’s not an idiot. I think his perceived overreaction was a calculated one, aimed at preventing another Game 1 letdown like the Heat suffered in the Chicago series. Michael Jordan was the same way, taking anything that could be construed as a slight and letting it serve as motivation, whether a slight was intended or not.
That said, I thought Vogel’s comment was harmless, and the Miami Herald reporter who misquoted Vogel when tattling to LeBron didn’t help matters much. It’s much ado about nothing, and with a berth in the Finals on the line, neither of these teams needs any extra motivation.
Means: Vogel was a victim of misquoting, which is a process that annoys writers everywhere even though we’ve all done it. He certainly was within his rights to say what he said and LeBron was fine in saying what he said in response given what he thought Vogel originally said. This isn’t a tugging on Superman’s cape-type moment but Bron made it what he wanted it to make it and it worked for him obviously in Game 1, no Bulls series-like let down happened this time.
5. Finally, the prediction…who will win this series and one (legit and non-homerish) reason why?
Smith: The Heat will win this series in five extremely hard-fought games, simply because the Pacers are as deep as a hot tub. When your primary subs are D.J. Augustin, Tyler Hansbrough and Sam Young, your second unit is going to struggle. Hansbrough played out of his mind in Game 1, but that was likely more of an outlier than a sign of things to come. George Hill had trouble bringing the ball up the court and has shot 4-for-19 since returning from the concussion suffered in Game 4 of the Knicks series (not a coincidence), meaning the Pacers may need to rely more heavily on Augustin than they would like.
Minus Bird’s standout performance, Miami’s bench was awful in Game 1. Norris Cole, Shane Battier and Ray Allen combined to shoot 2-for-16 and committed seven turnovers. When you consider how many things went wrong for Miami in Game 1, it’s somewhat shocking that they were able to emerge with the win. But their bench, on paper, gives them a huge advantage over the Pacers in this series going forward. As formidable an opponent as the Pacers are (tougher than either San Antonio or Memphis will be), their injury and depth issues will keep them from making this a long series.
Means: Heat in six, mainly an aspirational pick because it would almost mean that the Pacers would have to win a game in Miami. Indiana isn’t necessarily a better team now than last year when they took Miami to six, though in George it has a better leader now than Danny Granger (but it would be so nice to have both of them).
The Pacers’ turnover issues will continue to do them a disadvantage through every game, it’s not something I think they’ll get past against a team like Miami and it will hobble them in close games (which each game should be). Indeed, they will be in every game and if Vogel doesn’t over-coach he can give his team a chance to take the two games in Indy, but should they come back in Game 6 the Heat will have blood in their eyes and take them out. I’m beginning to think that LeBron is developing that Jordan-like distaste for Game 7s.
Follow Rob on Twitter @Smithers_Rob, Kyle @Wrk_Wrt and Regal Radio @regalradio1