On Saturday night, LeBron James was forced into what was largely a one-man offense against the Indiana Pacers, and the result was that Miami scored a season low in points while losing to the Pacers, 91-77 in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference final. The teams now play Game 7 Monday night in Miami, with the winner advancing to the NBA Finals.
The Pacers took it to the Heat all night long. They outscored Miami in the paint, 44-20, and at the eight minute mark of the second quarter, had 10 fast break points (they finished with 14). By contrast, they had 4 fast break points in all of Game 5.
The Heat couldn’t get anything going on the inside, with Indiana out-rebounding them by 20 (53-33), and though Miami hit 10 of 18 3-pointers, they only hit 36% - 26 of a whopping 72 field goal attempts – all night. In the critical third quarter, when Indiana went on a 14-2 run, Miami’s perimeter game all but collapsed as they went only 1-for-11 in the same stretch.
The Pacers effectively neutralized Game 5’s surprise standout, the Heat’s Udonis Haslem, who had no points in 16 minutes. And although LeBron James was his steady self, with 29 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists, he got no help from the other two members of Miami’s “Big Three”: Dwyane Wade was held to only 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting, and Chris Bosh had only 5 points on 1-of-8 from the field. Ray Allen has also continued his poor three-point shooting off the bench, hitting only 1 of 4 from downtown.
In the post, the Heat were greatly missing the contributions of Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who was suspended for Game 6 after the flagrant-1 foul he committed in Game 5 against the Pacers’ Tyler Hansbrough was changed to a flagrant-2. The tattoos on Andersen’s neck, which read “Free” on one side and “Bird” on the other comprised an appeal that wasn’t to be heard or answered by the NBA for this game.
The Heat’s inside woes were punctuated midway through the fourth quarter when James, after charging the lane, was called for an offensive foul against the Pacers’ Roy Hibbert. James sprinted up the court and into the crowd under the opposing hoop, and was hit with a technical foul – as was the Heat’s assistant coach David Fizdale. Interestingly, James may have had a point in his unorthodox protest as Hibbert was at the time standing in the restricted “halo” area under the net. But it was a watershed moment for the Heat, as it resulted in two free-throws for Indiana’s George Hill, and a Hibbert layup on the next possession – a four-point swing – after which the Heat never again threatened.
As opposed to the Heat’s mediocre offensive performance, the Pacers continued to get strong offense from Paul George, who had 28 points (including 3 3-pointers) and 8 rebounds and Hibbert, who amassed 24 points and 11 rebounds. But the truly inspiring performance of the evening came from David West, who after being sent home from practice earlier in the day with a respiratory infection, fought through it to collect a double-double, with 11 points while grabbing a mammoth 14 rebounds off the glass.
Miami will certainly be happy to be returning to South Beach on Monday, because they are not at all comfortable with Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where they are 1-4 on the season. And the Pacers were one of only two teams in the NBA that had a winning record against Miami. And after getting hit with a $5,000 fine from the NBA earlier in the day for “flopping,” James and his teammates were serenaded with chants of “Heat are floppers” by the Pacers faithful.
But humor aside, the Heat have some really critical questions about their offense going into Game 7, where James this year overtook Michael Jordan as the all-time highest scorer in NBA playoff Game 7s (with 34.4 per game). James has performed in a solo offensive act before with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but it was never enough by itself to get the Cavs to the finals. These Pacers are a particularly punishing, youthful and athletic team, and James will need material assistance from Wade and Bosh, and maybe from supporting players like Haslem, Mario Chalmers, or Joel Anthony. Someone – anyone – needs to give James a helping hand. The Heat will require that if they want to advance to their third straight NBA Finals.