NBA Playoffs: Miami Turns Up The Defensive Heat

The series between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers turned ugly in more ways than one. Indiana felt Miami resorted to cheap shots, including one that sidelined power forward David West in the second half, and the Pacers themselves played some flat-out ugly basketball, turning in a performance that on less than authority than team president Larry Bird called “S-O-F-T” and Miami delivered a resounding 115-83 win to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-final series.

Miami shot a stunning 61 percent from the floor. Regardless of how hot a team might be, it’s difficult to get that kind of percentage without the defense being complicit, lending credence to Bird’s remarks. The Heat had no problem bringing the defensive intensity, holding Indiana to 33 percent and playing the kind of D that had made Miami one of the league’s best at that end of the floor. And the Heat went after the misses with more vigor, winning the rebounding battle 49-35 in spite of having the inferior inside personnel. It was all an extremely disappointing night for the Pacers, who saw West get just four rebounds before departing and Danny Granger, the presumed meal ticket of this team, took only six shots, scored just ten points and managed a meager one rebound. By contrast the Heat two-guard, Mario Challmes, got eleven rebounds.

It was, frankly, a stunning non-performance by Indiana in a game that I believe—with all due respect to my fellow Celtics fans to the Sixers—decided who plays in the Finals. Indiana can come back with renewed defensive and rebounding intensity in Game 6 and extend the series, but the degree of difficulty for winning on the road skyrockets when you hit a seventh game and now Miami has that hole card in their hand.

Miami’s own showing got big nights from the usual suspects, with LeBron dropping a 30 points/10 rebounds/8 assists line and Dwayne Wade getting 28. The offense got a little bit of help from Shane Battier, who chipped in 13 and Udonis Haslem had 10. But overall, it’s the defensive intensity that Miami brought that’s most impressive about this win and why their worst-case scenario now still has them at home for a potential decisive game on Saturday.

The next two nights are the chances for both Miami and Boston to play with house money and get the road close-out. It’s Celtics-Sixers from Philadelphia tonight. Ray Allen showed life on that sore ankle last night—not necessarily scoring, but he did more than just stop and shoot for the first time in these playoffs. But between Allen’s ankle, Pierce’s knee and Avery Bradley’s shoulder, the Celtics are a wounded team and I wonder what happens if Philadelphia comes out strong and grabs an early lead—does Doc Rivers fold his hand quickly and make sure he’s got a rested team for Saturday?  And if the reverse happens, Doug Collins knows from Game 4 that his team won’t quit.