3:30 PM EST, TNT – Line: Heat -5, Over/Under: 213.5
Desperation begins to set in as the NBA Playoffs rage on, as the Fourth-Seeded Indiana Pacers look to prevent falling deeper into an 0-3 hole against the Fifth-Seeded Miami Heat in Game Three of their First Round Series from ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Today’s contest will go a long way towards deciding just how much longer that the Pacers (45-28, 4th in Eastern Conference) will enjoy their stay in the Bubble, though for all intents and purposes you couldn’t fault them for wanting to leave at this point, particularly if they have to keep battling the same opponent. They say that contempt is bred from familiarity, and if that’s the case these teams must absolutely HATE each other; Indiana has crossed paths with Miami four times now in the past twelve days, including two of their final three games of the Restart, and their record at this point against them is 1-5 with that lone victory coming in the Regular Season Finale with both sides resting key contributors. And with no Home Court to speak of, it’s not as if Nate McMillan & Co can count on having the next two chapters of this Series contested at Bankers Life Fieldhouse where they could possibly swing momentum. Instead, they must look within themselves for a solution to a matchup that has quickly proven to be a nightmare.
Unsurprisingly, this Series has played out a lot like their four prior meetings did, with the Pacers struggling to keep pace with their counterpart on the offensive end. Granted, McMillan’s charges are far from the most prolific offensive side in the league, instead relying upon their defensive discipline to get the job done, but when they prove unable of stopping their opponent, they’re woefully ill-equipped to enter a shootout. Through the first two games, the typically stout Indiana Defense has allowed Miami to shoot a stellar 48.4% from the field, including a blistering 44.3% from beyond the arc, where they’ve been outscored by Twenty-Seven Points thus far (13.5 PPG). So where is the production supposed to come from? Young Forward, Domantas Sabonis (18.5 PTS, 54.0% FG, 12.4 REB, 5.0 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.5 BLK, 20.7 PER), broke his foot in practice shortly before the Restart began, while All-Star Shooting Guard, Victor Oladipo (14.5 PTS, 39.4% FG, 31.7% 3FG, 3.9 REB, 2.9 AST, 0.9 STL, 11.3 PER), has been slow to return from major knee surgery, in addition to suffering an eye injury in Game One that has clearly affected his vision. The 28-Year Old has managed just 13.0 Points per Game on a dreadful 31.3% shooting from the field, while racking up more Turnovers (7) than Assists (4). Furthermore, two-way stud, Malcolm Brogdon (16.5 PTS, 43.8% FG, 32.6% 3FG, 4.9 REB, 7.1 AST, 0.6 STL, 17.7 PER), battling injuries of his own has been plagued similar shooting woes (31.3%), including 3-of-12 from downtown (25.0%). Or how about TJ Warren (19.8 PTS, 53.6% FG, 40.3% 3FG, 4.2 REB, 1.5 AST, 1.2 STL, 18.4 PER), who was one of the many breakout stars that made the most of his time during the Seeding Games? The Forward was on fire through the first five outings of the restart, averaging a robust 34.8 Points on 60.5% shooting, including 55.6% from three, only to see a precipitous drop after reacquainting himself with Miami, or more specifically Jimmy Butler (more on him later), who he engaged in a well-publicized altercation during a pervious meeting back in early January; the 26-Year Old was relegated to a dismal Twelve Points on 5-of-14 shooting in that 22-point debacle, and in the first two entries of this Series has been more efficient (48.5% FG), though hardly as productive (18.0 PTS).
Thursday’s 100-109 defeat looked like an affair featuring two teams traveling in opposite directions. Trailing by as many as fourteen points late in the Fourth Quarter, this was a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would have led you to believe. Again, it was yet another case of McMillan not having the necessary firepower to keep up with their opponent, amassing just 100 Points despite totaling more Field Goal Attempts (81-76). The biggest difference in the decision was the disparity from the perimeter, where Indiana was outscored by a staggering Twenty-Four Points. Case in point, Miami’s Duncan Robinson lit them up on 7-of-8 shooting from deep all by himself (87.5%), while the tandem of Oladipo and Brogdon could muster a combined 6-of-17 (35.2%). Granted, both players did the bulk of their damage from the Charity Stripe (15-of-17 FT), but it simply wouldn’t be enough to keep up. Another issue that began to become clear is Indiana’s lack of depth, which was painfully evident in Game Two where the reserves accounted for a scant Eighteen Points in comparison to Thirty Points for Miami. With Sabonis out of action, the Bench would have to pick up the slack, particularly in the Frontcourt where Myles Turner (12.7 PTS, 45.7% FG, 34.4% 3FG, 6.6 REB, 1.2 AST, 0.7 STL, 2.1 BLK, 14.8 PER) has been forced to carry the load in the Paint. The young Center totaled Seventeen Points on an efficient 7-of-8 shooting from the field (87.5%), including 3-of-3 from long range (100.0%), with Eight Rebounds and a game-high Five Blocks, but it wouldn’t be close to enough to slow down their opponent.
Meanwhile, how tonight’s affair plays will go a long way towards revealing just what kind of team that the Heat (44-29, 5th in Eastern Conference) is. As we stated earlier, there is no such thing as Home Court in the Bubble, with no comfort to be drawn from a crowd of fans, and where it would typically be difficult to enter the den of an opponent and steal a victory, the pressure in accomplishing that arduous task is no longer a factor. Simply put, the faithful in Miami would argue that their opponent is on the ropes and given how they’ve performed against them thus far this season, then they should proceed like a proverbial shark sensing blood in the water. As we also stated earlier, Erik Spoelstra’s charges have OWNED the Pacers in 2019-2020, winning five of their six meetings thus far, while no doubt holding out that they’ll make it eight out of nine when it’s all said and done. Though they’re the lower-seeded side, these teams were only separated by a single game in the Standings, and looking back at their four prior encounters in the Regular Season it really shouldn’t come as a surprise as to how their renewal of acquaintances in the Postseason has played out; Miami outscored them 105.3-100.3 and battered them on the glass, outrebounding them by a sizable margin of 9.2 Boards. However, where it’s changed in the Playoffs, has been the dogged pressure that they’ve applied at the point of attack, completely taking Indiana out of their rhythm on the offensive end, which has only been compounded by the loss of the aforementioned Sabonis.
We touched upon the lack of firepower that has afflicted the Pacers, but in all honesty the biggest difference thus far between these teams is the fact that the Heat have been on an absolute shooting tear of late. In the four meetings during the Regular Season, Miami only shot 44.4% from the field, including 35.8% from beyond the arc, but in the Playoffs have since seen those two figures increase exponentially to 48.4% and 44.3% respectively. Simply put, they’ve been in the zone with four different players netting over 36.0% from downtown, including the aforementioned Robinson (13.5 PTS, 47.0% FG, 44.6% 3FG, 3.2 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.5 STL, 13.1 PER), who has been nothing short of a sniper in this Series, drilling 9-of-16 Attempts (57.3%), including that 7-of-8 on Thursday. The Undrafted Free Agent has flourished in his sophomore campaign with the club, averaging 13.5 Points on 47.0% shooting overall and 44.6% from deep this season, with those figures increasing to 15.0 Points on 56.3% shooting, with all of his Field Goal Attempts coming behind the line. And then there’s Jimmy Butler (19.9 PTS, 45.5% FG, 24.4% 3FG, 6.7 REB, 6.0 AST, 1.8 STL, 0.6 BLK, 23.6 PER), whose presence has completely changed this team for the better following his acquisition in the Offseason, with his young teammates feeding off his attitude and maniacal work ethic. On his fourth team in as many years, there is no reason to think that five-time All-Star will be heading anywhere else in the near future, providing the franchise with the star-caliber player that they’ve sought for since the end of the LeBron James Era on South Beach. Throw away the fact that he shot he endured his worst three-point shooting season since he was a rookie (24.4%), this guy does everything else VERY WELL, posting career-highs in a slew of other significant categories such as Rebounds (6.7) and Assists (6.0), all the while setting the tone defensively on the perimeter (just ask TJ Warren). And quite frankly, if you only watched him in these Playoffs, you’d never have thought that he struggled from beyond the arc, for the 30-Year Old has knocked down 4-of-5 Attempts from three thus far, including a pair of daggers late in the Fourth Quarter of Game One’s 113-101 victory.
As far as Game Two was concerned, Butler took a bit of a backseat to his Supporting Cast, totaling Eighteen Points on just 5-of-13 shooting (38.5%), with nearly as many Turnovers (5) as Assists (6), but did the majority of his damage from the perimeter (2-of-3 3FG) and the Free-Throw Line (6-of-8 FT). Robinson registered a team-high Twenty-Four Points, while veteran Point Guard, Goran Dragic (16.2 PTS, 44.1% FG, 36.7% 3FG, 3.2 REB, 5.1 AST, 16.3 PER), added another Twenty Points on 9-of-18 shooting (50.0%), including 2-of-4 from downtown (50.0%), along with Three Rebounds and Four Assists, with Rookie Guard, Tyler Herro (13.5 PTS, 42.8% FG, 38.9% 3FG, 4.1 REB, 2.2 AST, 0.6 STL, 12.5 PER), providing energetic production from the bench with Fifteen Points, Five Rebounds, Three Assists, and a Steal. It should be interesting to see just how long this offensive assault on Miami’s behalf will last, for as we stated earlier they weren’t THIS effective during the Regular Season against Indiana, but through two games in these Playoffs they’ve ranked Third and Fourth Overall in Field Goal Percentage (48.4%) and Three-Point Field Goals per Game (15.5). Over the entirety of the campaign, Spoelstra’s troops were largely middling on the offensive end, ranking Fifteenth in Scoring (112.0), though they were sneaky good in a number of other categories such as Field Goal Percentage (46.8%, 10th Overall), Two-Point Percentage (53.2%, 8th Overall), and Three-Point Percentage (37.9%, 2nd Overall), along with Assists (25.9, 5th Overall). Furthermore, no team earned a higher Free-Throw/Field Goal Attempt Ratio (23.4%).