INDIANAPOLIS – A warmth cooled what was a hot atmosphere inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
That, fittingly enough, was the Heat.
Miami shot 62.8 percent in the first half of Game 3 against the Pacers, squashing the momentum the hosts carried over from a Game Two win in Miami. They scored an unheard of 70 points in 24 minute against a team near the top in defense in the NBA for most of the season.
It spelled doom for the Pacers, who never recovered in a 114-96 loss to the Heat which gave Miami back home court advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals.
“We had a few lapses,” forward David West freely admitted about Game Three. “We didn’t complete the task from start to finish in terms of plays that needed to be made.”
Now as quickly as they were in the driver’s seat for the series they now face a critical match-up with Miami on Tuesday night in Game Four or face a daunting challenge-win three-straight against the defending NBA Champions.
“It’s us playing with our backs against the wall,” said Paul George of Game Four for the Pacers. “It’s a must win for us.”
After Sunday night making that happen starts with finding a way to slow down the Heat offense. Their five starters-who have the ability to play well inside and out-scored 86 of the team’s 114 points with LeBron James leading the way with 22 points.
“We understand how they are scoring,” said head coach Frank Vogel. “That’s what we’ve got to dial into, focus in on. Pour sand on the fire of the areas that they’re getting points in the paint.”
There were many of them on Sunday as the Heat got 52 points there in Game Three, doubling up the Pacers over 48 minutes. James was critical in making that happen with all of his buckets coming inside the three-point arc, using his post-ups to make it difficult for the Pacers to maintain any sort of momentum.
Stopping that, however, is easier said than done considering James’ position as the best player in the NBA, so getting help underneath to contain the forward is critical for the Pacers.
“LeBron’s just got to know that they’re there. He can’t feel like he’s isolated by himself down there,” said George of James in the paint. “He is, if not the best player, one of the best players in this league and if you give him five dribbles at the block you’re giving him two points. LeBron’s just got to know that he sees David West, he see’s George (Hill), he sees Lance (Stephenson).
“We’ve got to make sure he feels our presence down there.”
Yet West believes that one great shooting game by the Heat shouldn’t detract the defense from sticking to the plan which has worked well most of the season.
“We just have to do what we do a little bit better,” said West of Game Four. “Like I said, I don’t think we played with any force defensively, especially early.”