INDIANAPOLIS – He wouldn’t have much time to hide from the inevitable inquiry following his team’s third loss of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The minute that Erik Spoelstra stepped to the podium following his Heat team’s 91-77 loss to the Pacers on Saturday night, the question was presented right to him.
“Erik, can you explain the third quarter,” asked a reporter.
Spoelstra’s response was simple.
“All across the board, they just flat-out beat us,” said the Miami head coach. “In every facet of the game, they outclassed us that quarter.”
Frank Vogel might have said the same thing just 48 hours earlier, when the Heat used a 30-13 run to best his Pacers in Game Five 90-79 at American Airlines Arena to grab a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.
But instead it was Spoelstra answering the hard questions about what happened between the 24th and 36th minutes of Game Six Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. In that quarter his team was outscored 29-15 and was the key to Indiana’s series-tying victory that was eerily similar to the previous game except reversed-this time it was the Pacers 91 and the Heat 77.
“I think we just did a tremendous effort of recognizing,” said center Roy Hibbert of that quarter, which helps the Pacers force a winner-take-all Game Seven in Miami on Monday night. “Last game our third quarter was what really let us down. We tried to take advantage of that and come out aggressive.”
Statistics show the Pacers did just that. For one the Pacers pitched the shutout inside, outscoring the Heat 16-0 in the paint while hitting 8-of-12 shots in that area. Miami, meanwhile, was a dismal 0-for-7 inside which was apart of their 25 percent shooting quarter in which six of their 15 points came from the free throw line.
Hibbert had a big part in that as he hit 6-for-9 from the floor in the third quarter and had nine points along with a pair of rebounds-adding to Indiana’s 13-4 advantage on the boards in that quarter. It added to his 24 points and 11 rebounds in Game Six-the fourth time in the Eastern Conference Finals he’s had a double-double.
“Roy Hibbert is making extraordinary plays in the pocket. Poise in the pocket,” is how Vogel describe Hibbert’s play underneath. “He’s getting the paint catches and he’s just having great poise, great reads. He’s not plowing over guys. He had a charge in Game Five but has been under control and when the help comes, he either finishes over them or he makes the extra pass.
“But Roy is playing the best basketball of his career right now. He’s leading us, and he’s a big ready why we are where we are.”
Paul George wasn’t bad either. He matched Hibbert’s nine points on 3-of-4 from the field while also collecting four rebounds and two steals in 12 minutes.
“We found opportunities to strike early,” said George of the Pacers’ offense. “And we really executed. We were finding guys in the pick-and-roll and having Roy or David West make plays out of that.”
Meanwhile the Heat were lost in a quarter that saw them shoot 4-of-16 from the field, with Dwayne Wade hitting three of those shots and scoring nine of his ten points on the evening. The failed not only to get a point in the point but also off turnovers and on fast breaks.
“It just needed one quarter. One quarter to separate the two teams,” said James of the third quarter. “23-21 the first. 17-18 second. 23-22 fourth. And you know, 29-15 in that third. That was the separation.”
Yet James and the Heat nearly made up the gap with a run towards the end of the nightmare third. The forward hit a pair of free throws then stole the inbounds pass, drew a foul, and then hit a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 13. With 5:52 to go James would hit a layup to cut a once 17-point Pacers’ lead down to four.
But West, who played the game with a temperature of over 100 degrees, offered enough resistance to keep Miami from taking over. He scored a team-high eight points in the final 12 minutes and grabbed four rebounds to shut the door on the Heat and make that big quarter hold up.
“I wasn’t 100 percent, but I had to play,” said West-who missed morning shootaround with the illness. “We’ve come to far for me not to play. I’m not feeling good now although this win helps. I’m sure I will be better tomorrow and I’ll be ready Monday.”
When a bad or good quarter could mean questions about the end of a season or a chance for an NBA Championship.