For more on the Pacers' win, visit Indy Cornrows
It wasn't by accident that coach Frank Vogel mentioned in the pregame huddle that his squad was the best defensive team in the league. The Pacers finished second in points per game allowed (90.7) and first in points per 100 possessions (99.8).
In Game 3, they got away from that identity and gave up far too many easy baskets, but Game 4 was their opportunity to regain their form, and they seized it.
Indiana's calling card is team defense. When arguably their best on-ball defender in Paul George struggled to stay on the floor with early foul trouble, they limited LeBron James' impact by consistently putting bodies on him and contesting every shot.
At 265 pounds, James is a handful for any small forward, but George has shown he can defend James as well as anyone one-on-one. Unfortunately for Indiana, he picked up three quick fouls and got out of rhythm, but his teammates picked him up by sharing the load and finding different ways to contain James and force his teammates to beat them.
Enter Lance Stephenson, who drew praise from his coach and his teammates after stepping in more-than-capably for George when he left during those key stretches.
After scoring at will in the post in Game 3, James was just 1-for-6 inside on Tuesday. The Pacers didn't have to reinvent the wheel in order to figure out how to stop him, they only had to get back to what vaulted them to the NBA's final four in the first place.
"I think our identity, our style of play is something I've tried to implement," Vogel said. "They've embraced it and run with it. ... They love that style of play, and it's just grown and grown since then. It's manifested itself in mental toughness as well, not just physical toughness, as we saw in the resolve tonight."
Continuing to play attentive defense, crowding James, and taking away extra possessions by winning the battle of the boards is going to be Indy's shot at postseason glory. In Game 4, the Pacers pounded the glass and outrebounded the Heat by a margin of 49-30. Not coincidentally, they scored 19 second-chance points.
Most importantly, they bothered James.
"As a team, they keyed in on me," James said. "Especially in the low post. For me, I've seen every defense, I've seen every individual. I was able to get it going a little bit in the second half, playing mostly with foul trouble."
The Pacers will go as far as they're able to slow down the best player on the planet. If they stick to what got them this far, then they have a legitimate shot at moving on to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
(Quotes via NBA live streaming)