Miami Heat 101, Indiana Pacers 93 (series tied, 2-2)
Dwyane Wade came alive and LeBron James had a game for the ages on Sunday afternoon. All signs pointed to the Heat's dynamic duo flipping the proverbial switch, as they put the Pacers away, so what took so long? Why, a week into this series, did it take four games for the Heat to come alive?
Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was absolutely correct in pointing out that none of us should be surprised that a series between a second and third seed will be a long battle "without much variance," but we're probably just as correct in wondering where the heck Udonis Haslem was in Game 3 of his team's long series with the Indiana Pacers. Even before Haslem's jump shots helped put the Pacers away in Miami's Game 4 win over Indiana on Sunday, Spoelstra's adjustments won Miami this game. He put two of the best players in NBA history in a position to succeed, and his work (even when Indiana was up, in the first quarter) won the Heat this game.
It just makes you wonder why he couldn't pull the same rotation off in Game 3. Udonis Haslem entered Game 3 after having missed 18 of 27 shots in the playoffs. He then missed his only two shots in Game 3, before Spoelstra sat him for the entire second half. He was terrible from the floor — but the Pacers had to guard him. They had to guard him in Game 4, even before Haslem hit 5 of 6 shots to put the Pacers away. Yes, LeBron James put on a performance for the ages, but singular brilliance needs help in a five-on-five game; and Coach Spo finally made the right moves (both in establishing that all-game spacing, and sticking with Haslem) to support his stars.
[Adrian Wojnarowski: LeBron James delivers for Heat at the most critical time]
Rather important, this team play; which is why it has taken so long for us to discuss perhaps the best all-around performance the NBA playoffs has seen in decades from LeBron James, and an afternoon from Dwyane Wade that would earn him a sure MVP trophy if he averaged it for an entire season. Not only was LeBron James the best defensive player in the world on Sunday, he continuously attacked a Pacer front line that had him shooting low-percentage jumpers in Game 3, finishing with 40 points on just 27 shots, 18 rebounds, nine assists, two blocks and two steals. He had five turnovers as well, but could have doubled that total up before we'd pass on considering this one of the better individual performances we've ever seen.
Wade, finally, wasn't far off. After again missing a few jump hooks in the first half, Wade hunkered down to drop 30 points on 23 shots, with nine rebounds and six assists. And outside of Haslem, that was it. And it was still a close enough game. This team game, it's a real thing apparently.
The Pacers want each and every one of their 3-pointers back. Indiana is not a big 3-point shooting team, though they do manage a good percentage from outside (a reversal of the Jim O'Brien years), and they had heaps of open looks in the first half especially. The squad missed 15 of 22 overall, and seemed just off on its drives and attempts to take advantage of Miami's thin interior defense. With that stated it's important to point out that Miami backup center Joel Anthony blocked three shots but changed many more.
The fact that the Pacers probably wanted a Sunday night, 7:30-do over for Game 4 says a lot, even if that would include LeBron's monstrous performance all over again. Indiana had chance after chance offensively, and more made shots would have put an end to Miami's devastating transition game. Not only that, but Udonis Haslem won't hit 5 of 6 shots again, and Shane Battier seems very likely to continue his awful shooting (11-45, so far in the postseason). This is a best of three, now, and the Pacers played Miami to an absolute hilt in Florida last week.
Which means Spoelstra's adjustments aren't over. They'll never be, even with two starters that at times look like the best two players in the NBA.
San Antonio Spurs 102, Los Angeles Clippers 99 (Spurs win series, 4-0)
You know the drill by now — we'll have more on the Clippers later on Monday. It nearly goes without saying that this series was completely hamstrung from the start because Chris Paul was obviously working at about three-quarter strength. Toss in Blake Griffin's dodgy knee and a roster with holes, and the problems are compounded. Then Vinny Del Negro has to go ahead and play Randy Foye five more minutes per game than Eric Bledsoe, and this is what you get.
The Clippers also got the San Antonio Spurs, a team that has lost just one game of any significance since you woke up with a hangover the day after St. Patrick's Day. They are without question the most dominant team in the NBA, a group that initially made its way based on spacing and ball movement, but has been reborn over the last few weeks as a startlingly good defensive outfit that Tim Duncan appears to be guiding from both 30 feet above the court and also directly in front of the rim.
Danny Green was phenomenal in his defense on Paul, and finished with 14 points as the ball consistently found its way around the perimeter and into his capable hand. Fourteen points as well for Gary Neal, and Tiago Splitter managed a needed 11 points in a game that saw him start the second half. Twenty-eight dimes on 38 field goals for the Spurs, and that's with a road scoring crew. Also, Tim Duncan is nothing like what you saw from 2009 to 2011. The guy only played 30 minutes, but contributed 21 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two blocks, and just one turnover. Whenever San Antonio needed a shot in the arm, it was the oldest guy on the court that had to throw the punch. The steady, wearying, punch.
Teams just can't adjust to San Antonio's spacing on offense, when the passes and decision making come correct, and there's just absolutely no shame in being a step slow when they get either a shot at the rim, a corner 3-pointer, or a free throw. Have you seen them attempt anything else since mid-March? We may have to check the tape on that.
This isn't some coin that, once flipped, went San Antonio's way over and over. This isn't a group taking advantage of injuries or an odd season or a prime schedule.
This is a special basketball team that absolutely reminds us of the one we saw all the way back in 1999.
(And, perhaps more frightening, reminds of the one that scared the heck out of us in 2005.)
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