Of course the Indiana Pacers are going to give Paul George more help in guarding LeBron James in Tuesday night’s showdown with the Miami Heat. Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals can’t in any way work as an approximation of what the Pacers had to endure in Game 3, not with the Heat scoring 70 first half points, or the Pacers blowing the home court advantage, or James posting his way up to 18 first half points mostly on the same, deliberate left-handed hook on the low left block.
It’s not a secret, which is why Pacers coach Frank Vogel didn’t mind admitting as such during Tuesday’s shootaround, telling reporters that his team will attempt to load up and chase James out of the box, somehow saving the legs and possibly confidence of a young player in George that seemed to expect 20-some points and a few key assists to just show up for him in Game 3.
Will any of it matter, though? Dog James all you want down low, but the guy will still have counter options (say, perhaps, a righty hook? Or turnaround jumper) in the post, teammates to pass to, and (most importantly) the knowledge that he just about dominated the Pacers for 47 minutes in Game 2 without having to post up all that much.
I hope the Pacers got a lot of rest on Memorial Day. Even if they’ll never admit to being fatigued, some 97 games into their 2012-13 season.
As dominant and focused as James was during the pullaway stretches of the second quarter on Sunday (scoring 12 points in just eight minutes of play, mostly in the left low block), James came through with an even better and more potent contest in the Game 2 loss. James’ two turnovers in the fourth quarter obscured what was otherwise a masterful performance, as he shot 70 percent from the field and scored 36 points in the loss.
Should the Pacers move and chase James out of his comfort zone in the low block, not only are there options for James to pass to, but there is the strong chance that James could return to Game 2 form – mindful of those two late miscues, and the potential for Pacer forward David West to once again crowd his airspace in the passing lanes. The flex cuts could return, and James could player more Jordan-esque, as opposed to Lanier-like.
Options abound for LeBron. Heat forward Udonis Haslem won’t shoot 8-9 from the field again, as he did in Game 3, but a confident Haslem can be a terrible thing for the Pacers. Haslem has done this for three years running now, turning in killer performances in series-turning wins over the Pacers last season (on the road in Game 3), and in Chicago during the 2011 Conference finals (on the road in Game 2); and while 8-9 isn’t assured, a return to form can be expected.
Chris Bosh, meanwhile, continues to show no hesitation in firing up jumpers or taking opponents off the dribble. Bosh didn’t even bother to pretend that he doesn’t want to go to and finish with his left and against the Pacers’ defense in Game 3, knowing full well that Miami’s initial action had the Pacers so out of place that it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d told about the location that he was planning to shoot the ball at ahead of time.
Bosh has always been an expert perimeter shooter, and his abilities from behind the three-point arc have slowly been building for years. What’s most astonishing, in late May of 2013, is the confidence that’s going into his unhurried gait from behind the line. His flat-footed jumper looks unhesitant and unmeasured. He’s just flinging away as Dirk Nowitzki would. With even greater accuracy, actually, as Bosh has made nearly 46 percent of his three-pointers during the postseason.
Then there’s Chris Andersen, who famously hasn’t missed in this series, and is shooting 35-41 (over 85 percent) in the playoffs thus far on a series of reverses, dunks, and looping lay-ins.
Andersen provides a wrinkle that spot-up guys like Bosh, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem do not. He doesn’t stick on the perimeter, he cuts and draws defenders and (most importantly) draws attention from opposing Pacers who are now charged with defending three people at once as James deliberates, their own man sticks to the perimeter, Andersen dives down.
Chris, who wasn’t even a part of an NBA roster until nearly midseason, credits his “Bird Box.” You heard me. From the Miami Herald:
“I just do what I do, man,” Andersen said. “I don’t really think about how many shots I’ve made in a row or how good I am. I just continue to do what I do, and that’s come off the bench and bring defense and energy, run the floor, get to my spots.
“If LeBron calls me up, I’ll come up. If not, I’ll stay in the bird box.”
“I’m getting the basketball around the rim,” Andersen said. “If I can’t make it a foot away from the basket, I shouldn’t be playing this sport.”
The “Bird Box” (which really should be capitalized) refers to a spot on the baseline that Andersen occupies while the Heat offense surveys its options, an area that you think would be able to be capably defended were it not for Andersen’s quickness and incredible hands. James and Dwyane Wade are excellent passers, but these are tough, tough passes that Andersen is collecting and finishing with. Chris really is an unstoppable presence when he picks his spots, and it really speaks to Miami’s preponderance of options that the Birdman is averaging less than 15 minutes per game in the postseason.
Everything comes back to LeBron, though. And this is without dismissing the formidable presence of Roy Hibbert looming over either one of James’ shoulders on the low block, or Paul George’s ability to improve his footwork and beat LBJ’s spin to the spot – possibly garnering a, shock horror, offensive foul!
If the post doesn’t work for the MVP, or his teammates’ shots spin out from either the baseline, behind the three-point line, or the Bird Box, James still has the same play-calling options from Game 2 in place.
If the Heat go back to a series of flex cuts, making James a slasher and scorer once again, the Pacers are still in huge trouble. That isn’t to say that they can’t take Game 4 or any contest tomorrow, the Pacers are good enough to go the distance. James and the Heat, though, still have that Game 2 output from LeBron (36 points, 70 percent shooting) in their back pocket to rely on should the Pacers beat them to the punch in the post. Save for two costly turnovers, and it was a masterful performance from LBJ that he will always have the ability to replicate.
One question answered, and another new one pops up. Even if it’s the same old question.
That’s LeBron James for you. Beating the MVP is hard, man. It’s hard.