Through two games, the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers have been shockingly even, as LeBron James and Paul George have gone highlight-for-highlight in two games that came down to the final minute. Now tied 1-1, the Pacers will try to hold on to home court while the Heat look to resume their dominance after losing for just the fourth time in their last 50 games.
Each side has its obvious advantages: Indiana has Roy Hibbert and David West, making them huge in comparison to a team that opts to spread the floor with jumper-heavy Chris Bosh as the biggest man on the floor. Miami has LeBron James, and although George has proven himself a star with phenomenal performances on both ends of the floor, James is the world's best player: 30 points, 10 boards, 10 assists and a game-winner in the first matchup, and 36 points on only 20 shots in Game 2.
And each side has made slip-ups late to blow a game already. Frank Vogel was much maligned for leaving Hibbert out, allowing James to coast somewhat effortlessly without a big man defending the hoop for a bucket to give the team a lead at the end of regulation and a 103-102 Miami win at the end of overtime. And James, after a brilliant Game 2, turned the ball over twice late as his team fell, 97-93.
With a potential sweep on the other side of the playoff bracket, it's been a thrill to watch: Erik Spoelstra and Vogel reacting to the tactical decisions of the other and the mismatches caused by them, James and George one-upping each other in a show of ho-hum brilliance for one and a breakout performance for the other. In a series that many thought would be a Miami romp, it's been awesome hoops -- even the team's stars realize that.
For a team that's tied 1-1 after a pair of remarkably close games, the Heat are leaving an awful lot on the table. Dwyane Wade, supposedly a superstar key to their performance, remains hampered by a balky knee. He's played heavily -- 81 minutes -- and scored, averaging 16.5 points per game, but he's needed 14.5 shots to do it -- not particularly efficient, especially not from someone who averaged 21.2 points on 15.8 shots over the course of the regular season.
And the Heat's role players, each of whom had been marvelous at fulfilling their various jobs over the course of the year, have fallen flat. Ray Allen and Shane Battier, both highly efficient shooters, are a combined 3-for-20 for the series, 1-for-12 from beyond the arc. If both were shooting at their season averages, the Heat would be getting about six extra points a game that right now are clanging away.
The Heat also struggled mightily with the Chicago Bulls in the second round of the playoffs, but after a Game 1 loss, fixed their various leaks and blasted their engines forward for a five-game series win. The Pacers are significantly more dangerous than a battered Chicago team, with a bona fide scoring option and a defensive interior capable of flustering everybody on Earth besides LeBron James -- and even James too, sometimes.
Will the Heat figure things out again and coast to a win, or will Indiana continue to pressure a squad pre-anointed by most as the NBA's Champions?
Here's the info on Sunday night's Game 3:
Game 3, Eastern Conference Finals
Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers
Series tied 1-1
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Odds: Miami favored by 1.5 points