The Miami Heat reassumed juggernaut series in Game 3, thoroughly throttling the Indiana Pacers 114-96 after two remarkably even games. Now, the Pacers have a shot to notch the series at two at home -- but if they lose, they'll find themselves just one game from elimination.
The first two matchups between the defending NBA champions and an upstart defensive-minded squad were back-and-forth, but it seemed like the Heat weren't playing up to their full potential. Dwyane Wade looked more like your average two-guard than a nine-time All-Star and former Finals MVP, struggling with a gimpy knee on both sides of the floor.
And the Heat's various role players -- one of the best shooters in league history in Ray Allen, a two-time NBA champion with the Heat in Udonis Haslem, a universally lauded three-defense specialist in Shane Battier, a generally productive point guard in Mario Chalmers -- were cold and ineffective. The Heat won once in overtime and lost in the final minute of the second game because LeBron James is brilliant, but there were several slackers on the roster.
In Game 3, all that switched. Wade had 18 points and eight assists, looking spry, falling down his proverbial seven times and getting up eight. Allen drilled a pair of threes, Haslem went 8-for-9 from the field, Battier had seven points, and Chalmers had 14 on just six shots.
This -- plus a LeBron playing with ease out of the post -- is why the Heat were so scary all season long. This is why they've now won 47 out of 51 games. The world's best player, two legitimate stars, and a roster of players perfectly suited to their roles. The Heat won by 18, and deserved it wholeheartedly.
Now it's time to see whether the Pacers have the moxie to actually make this a series, or whether their success against Miami was merely a flash in the pan, as it was for the Chicago Bulls in the first round.
The Pacers have to do a better job on the interior than in Game 3. Roy Hibbert has established himself as one of the best post defenders in the league, stout in man-to-man defense and better as a helper. But with James primarily playing out of the post instead of driving, Hibbert's help was neutralized. And cutting bigs capable of finishing around the hoop in Chris Andersen and Haslem thrived, shooting 12-for-13. That's not just great, it's nearly impeccable.
Protecting the paint should be the Pacers' bread and butter, but it was a weakness as they were blown out. Frank Vogel needs to figure out a scheme to get his incredibly talented defenders adapted to James' back-to-basket play.
And Paul George needs to step up, as he did in shootouts with James in Games 1 and 2. Maybe it's a bit much to ask George to continue playing toe-to-toe with the world's best player, but in those games, he showed the swagger of a superstar rather than a 23-year-old without a shoe line. Not only did George provide a menacing defensive option against James -- not that it mattered, but at least he made him work -- he'd answer back to James' preposterous finishes.
In Game 3, James walked over him and backed him down, scoring an easy 22 points, while George had just 13 on 3-for-10 shooting, turning the ball over five times. Indiana isn't going to win with another performance like that from George.
An Indiana win, it's anybody's series. A loss, Miami basically has it in the bag.
Here's the information on Tuesday night's matchup
Game 4, Eastern Conference Finals
Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers
Heat lead, 2-1
Time: 8:30 p.m.
Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Odds: Heat -3