This series was supposed to be a snoozer: the juggernaut Miami Heat against a defensive-minded Indiana Pacers squad, devoid of stars or any way of stopping the Heat.
We were obviously wrong, as the series has given us two thrillers, with the world's best player, LeBron James, locked in a battle of one-upmanship with Paul George, an out-of-nowhere star who isn't LeBron's equal, but is giving him a run for his money.
The first game saw George drill a preposterous off-balance three over James to force overtime and hit three free throws to give his team a one-point lead. Then James drove past George for a layup to win in overtime. In Game 2, George jammed a monster dunk past James and over Chris Andersen to give his team the lead. Then James drilled a three at the other end to tie the game up, a moment that led to the two sharing dap -- but James threw the game away with a pair of big turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Game time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Odds: Miami is now favored by 1.5 points
It's a battle of a superstar against an upstart, and it's given us two barnburners. How will Game 3 go? Here are three questions about the matchup:
Can the Heat stop the Pacers' bigs?
Miami is at an obvious size disadvantage against Indiana: the Heat like to space the floor with shooters for James to kick to with Chris Bosh -- a shooting power forward himself -- the biggest man on the floor, while the Pacers have Roy Hibbert and David West, a center who has spent this year's postseason showing the rest of the league that he's dominant and a bulkier power forward than Bosh.
In games 1 and 2, stopping Hibbert and West has proven impossible for the Heat. The first matchup saw Hibbert score 19 points with a whopping seven of his nine boards coming on the offensive glass, while West lit it up with 18 first-half points en route to 26 for the game. In a Pacers win the next time out, Hibbert was the destructor, scoring 29 points with 10 boards, six on offense, with West putting in a much quieter 13 points on nine shots. And without a dominant big to face off against, Hibbert can afford to help off his man and quiet the majority of Heat forays at the rim. As in the series against the New York Knicks, the rare times the Pacers have looked vulnerable defensively have come in stints where it didn't make sense that Hibbert was out of the game.
It's a problem the Heat might not have the personnel to face. The one bright spot is Chris Andersen, as the Birdman has been a solid rim protector and hit every one of his field goal attempts this series. Udonis Haslem has started alongside Bosh but looked absolutely dismal, going just 1-for-7 from the floor. And Hibbert and West got those two and Bosh into foul trouble in Game 2, forcing a brief stint by Joel Anthony, which went... poorly.
The Heat can either live with their philosophy and keep the floor spread or opt to play bigger to match up with the Pacers. Putting Andersen on an island with Hibbert and hoping for the best might be their smartest option right now, and it isn't a great one.
Who wins the turnover battle?
The Pacers are the No. 1 defensive team in the league, and are fresh off a pair of series against Atlanta and New York where they've proven that. The Heat are one of the most fearsome at forcing turnovers, with guards nagging end-line to end-line and Wade and LeBron ready to fly into transition.
So far, the turnover battle has been pretty even: a hefty 20 apiece in the first game, 13 for the victorious Pacers in Game 2, and 14 for the Heat, with two in the closing moments by James. Both squads are menacing defensively, but the one that forces the other into the emptiest possessions -- and makes the most opportunities out of it the other way -- is at a major advantage.
Can the non-Big Three create anything for Miami?
LeBron James has continued to be stellar, even with teams throwing their entire defenses at him. Chris Bosh and a hampered Dwyane Wade have been productive, if not particularly efficient. And as noted, Chris Andersen has turned into a master finisher off dumps by LeBron, hitting all nine of his field goal attempts.
Everybody else? Well, it's a bit rough. In Game 1, those not mentioned above went 6-for-29, just 2-for-22 if you exclude Mario Chalmers. In Game 2, 6-for-23.
This isn't supposed to happen. Ray Allen is one of the deadliest shooters in league history, and he's 3-for-13 on the series, 0-for-6 from three. Shane Battier loves camping out in the corner and drilling threes; this series, he's 0-for-7, 0-for-6 from three. Norris Cole, a typically average-or-below shooter who has had a spectacular postseason, has dropped back to earth. And we've already discussed Udonis Haslem's inefficiency. In Game 2, Erik Spoelstra showed signs of sitting his normal bench crew for lesser-used guys, notably bringing in Mike Miller, who drilled his only shot attempt. Will the Heat's talented cast of role players fill those holes or will Spoelstra have to dig deeper?