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Heat defense experiencing total failure against the Pacers

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Miami is scoring just fine on Indiana's top-ranked defense, but it can't slow the Pacers at all. That's why this series is tied at two games apiece.


Here's something far more stunning than the Pacers tying the Eastern Conference Finals at two on Tuesday: Indiana is doing it with offense. The Pacers boasted the league's No. 1 defense in the regular season, but it's not doing a whole lot to slow the Heat's onslaught. Miami scored 1.15 points per possession in Game 4; the No. 1 offense in the league averaged 1.12 this season.

But the Pacers have managed to knot the series in spite of this because their offense is also not living up to its ranking. In this case, that's a good thing: Indiana was No. 20 in offense this season. In the regular season, the Pacers averaged 1.04 points per possession; in the East finals, Indiana has scored 394 points in 334 possessions, or 1.17 points per possession. (Possession data is from Basketball-Reference.)

If Indiana were scoring at its regular-season rate, it'd have 347 points over four games. Miami has 402, so the Pacers would be at a minus-14 per game. Instead, they are at minus-2 per game, which is mostly explained by a Game 3 blowout loss.

The unsurprising part of this turn of events is that Miami had a good but underperforming defense all season, struggling especially defending the post and rebounding defensively. Those are the two items that are just killing the Heat right now. Indiana grabbed 15-of-33 offensive rebounding opportunities (46 percent) and Roy Hibbert is averaging 23 points per game on 54-percent shooting. (He has also made 25 free throws in four games, or six more than LeBron James.)

What are the solutions for Miami? Are there solutions for Miami? Hibbert gave the Heat trouble last spring, too, and Miami got the series victory with an overpowering offense. The Heat's offense is hot against the NBA's toughest defense ... and it's a 2-2 series.

The other side of that coin is that, based on data from the regular season, Indiana is playing over its head on offense. While it has some favorable matchups against Miami, this scoring rate is unsustainable for such a typically mediocre offense. But Indiana doesn't need to sustain it long term. It needs just two more wins.

It'll be interesting to see whether one of the final two or three games of the series reverts to expectations with a defensive battle, and if it does, whether LeBron can continue to get enough scoring help to overcome Indiana. But to get there, he needs to get loads of defensive help in the paint. You wonder at what point Erik Spoelstra will roll the dice and stick LeBron himself on Hibbert to try to fight length with strength. Bosh is struggling mightily to box out Big Roy. Can't James at least do better on that?

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