LeBron James has been dominant in the Eastern Conference Finals and has managed to make life miserable for Paul George and the rest of the Indiana Pacers. The four-time MVP is averaging 29.3, 7.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and a couple of broken hearts during the series and is living up his lofty resume.
Things are so easy for James that he joked after Game 3 that he might start using his right hand to shoot instead of his left.
“I think they might try to take away my left hand in Game 4,” James joked with the media. “So I will shoot it with my right.”
All joking aside, it’s the shooting of Udonis Haslem and Chris Anderson that has been the difference in this series. Sure, Dwyane Wade’s 18 points in Game 3 were big. You can also argue that Chris Bosh sticking three 3-pointers had a big impact on the game due to the spacing it provided James and other players to work with in the paint. But those two players are given big contracts with the expectation of impacting games. Anderson wasn’t even in Miami’s training camp last Fall and Haslem just cracked the starting line-up late in the season.
Roy Hibbert has loomed large for most of this series. He scored a career playoff-high 29 points in Game 2, snagged 10 rebounds and got into the head of James and forced him into two costly turnovers at the end of the game.
The ironic thing is it was Anderson and Haslem who managed to get Hibbert out of Game 3.
Hibbert was doing an odd two-step dance move during most of Game 3 as he struggled to decide if he should stay in the paint where he’s comfortable or follow the man he was guarding out near the 3-point line. Haslem was routinely given open looks from outside the paint and he went 6-6 from the field in the first half. He finished with 17 points while going 8-9 from the field.
The other player Hibbert had to guard at times, Anderson, has now made his last 16 field goal attempts and has made every field goal he has attempted in this series.
“Just [Haslem] hitting those shots really made us have to think on defense, ‘Who do we guard?’” Roy Hibbert confessed after Game 3. “Do we guard the paint or do we have to go out to the shooters in the corner?”
A big reason why things are opening up for Haslem and Anderson is because James is either cutting through the paint or sticking to the perimeter. He’s either dragging another defender with him or he’s giving Hibbert pause on if he should leave the paint to guard his man or stay to possibly help.
“I made a conscious effort to get down in the post tonight, to put pressure on their defense,” James said. “The coaching staff wanted me to be down there tonight, and my teammates allowed me to do that.”
You can count this utilization of James as one of the many brilliant coaching moves that Erik Spoelstra has made so far in this series.
“It was something we wanted to get to just to help settle us and get into a more aggressive attack,” Spoelstra explained. “We wanted to be a little more aggressive, a little more committed to getting into the paint and seeing what would happen. LeBron was very committed and focused not to settle.”
This small tweak allowed Miami to outscore Indiana 56-32 in the paint. It also allowed the Heat to shoot 54.5 percent against a Pacers defense that held opponents to a stingy and league-leading 42% from the field during the regular season.
Miami matched the highest scoring output in a quarter during this season’s playoffs with 34, broke the franchise playoff record for points in a half (70) and fell one point short of tying the third-highest point total in a playoff game in franchise history.
Miami prevented Indiana from playing their brand of smashmouth basketball and instead smashed them in their mouths on their home court.
“I think we have to do a better job of helping Paul [George] out,” Hibbert conceded after the loss. “LeBron (James) can’t get five or six dribbles to get a post move. … We have to make adjustments. He’s obviously a low-post threat, but we have to make adjustments.”
“If you’re not perfect guarding them, they’ll do what they did to us tonight,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel added. “Sometimes when you are perfect with your coverages, they still find a way to make baskets. But we didn’t have a great defensive night.”
The Pacers were hardly perfect in their coverages as they were slow rotating to Haslem, Anderson and Bosh on the perimeter. They also were slow rotating back into the paint when James or other players cut into it.
But, even with that being said, you still have to stick your shots when you’re open. Kudos to Haslem and Anderson for rising to the occasion and making their shots which helped to put Indiana’s defense in a rough spot.
If Miami’s relatively unknown duo of Haslem and Anderson are able to keep their hot shooting going then Miami will be able to advance to the NBA Finals with relative ease.