Down 2-1 in their best of seven series against the Indiana Pacers, you bandwagon Heat fans can inch closer to that panic button now. After getting thoroughly embarrassed and outplayed Thursday night 94-75 in Game Three of their Eastern Conference Semi-final series, the Heat have some soul searching to do before Game Four on Sunday afternoon (3:30, ABC). Give credit to the Pacers, they have been the better team thus far this series, but the bigger story is the struggles of the defending Eastern Conference Champions from South Florida.
Even the most die-hard fan of the dozen or so real Miami fans would be ignorant to think that everything is okay on South Beach. The Heat have some major issues, whether those be chemistry issues (Lebron or Wade?), closing issues (Mario Chalmers best option for the last shot?), coaching decisions (Dexter Pittman starting at center and playing only 3 minutes, Wade openly arguing with Spoelstra), or worst of all health issues (Bosh out for the series having his baby dinosaur, Wade dealing with lower leg injuries). Things are not all good in Miami and losing by 19 points last night will be the defining moment of the 2012 Heat if they are not able to take care of business on Sunday afternoon.
When Mario Chalmers is your team’s best player in any game you need to take a good, long look at what went wrong. We’re not in Lawrence anymore. In Game Three, Chalmers scored a team high 25 points while adding 6 rebounds and 5 assists. He was also truly the only Heat player showing any heart or effort out on the floor. LeBron James was the only other Heat player to score over 10 points, putting in 22 but only shooting 3-9 in the second half. Adding only 7 rebounds from the power-forward position, the Heat really need LBJ to step up next game to have a chance to beat the young, scrappy Pacers. Also, incredibly noticeable was the lack of production from the Heat’s other star player, the one who actually has a championship ring to his credit, Mr. Dwyane Wade. Wade has to be more injured than he is letting on, as he had a woeful night shooting only 2-13 from the field, scoring only 5 points with 5 rebounds and 5 turnovers. The Heat may be the more talented team in this series, but only when Wade is healthy and after what may have been the worst game in his basketball playing life the question of his well-being certainly becomes valid. Wade’s frustrations were clearly visible on multiple occasions last night, most notably in the third quarter when he feuded with Coach Spoelstra and remained on the end of the bench during team huddles later in the game. Wade is too good of a player for that nonsense and I lost a bit of respect for him last night, but maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by his childish antics.
It’s too early to write off the Heat and to give this series to the Pacers, but last night Indiana took a giant step forward towards pulling off this huge upset. The Pacers, while not having the same individual talent as the Heat, showed how staying in your role and doing your job is all you need to do to win games. Basketball is a team sport and when all five guys on the court are playing together well and staying within themselves you give your team a chance to win. Pacers center Roy Hibbert had a monster game, scoring 19 points, grabbing 18 rebounds, and blocking 5 shots and all of his teammates fed off the energy that he provided. George Hill scored 20 points with 5 assists, Danny Granger 17 points with 7 rebounds, and David West 14 points and 9 rebounds, so as you can see the Pacers spread the ball around and just did their job. Props to Larry Bird for building such a team.
There is still plenty of basketball to be played in this series and there is probably as good a chance that the Heat will bounce back as there is for the Pacers to play this well again. But for today, let’s celebrate what the Pacers have accomplished, for at the very least they have exposed a few of the Miami Heat’s issues. Hopefully over the next week the Pacers will be able to finish the deal and pull this upset so I can write about them advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals (most likely against the Celtics, especially if the Green win tonight). The Pacers have turned up the temperature on Miami and we’re about to see if LeBron and company will melt under the pressure. To use the famous words of Bart Scott: “Can’t Wait!”.