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Ball Don't Lie

A return to form for David West could be the key to Indiana holding serve at home

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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David West lines one up in Game 2 (Getty Images)

In a team full of them, David West may have been Indiana’s go-to hero in the team’s Game 2 conquest over the Miami Heat. Roy Hibbert turned in a dominant performance, Paul George went toe to toe with LeBron James, and coach Frank Vogel did fantastic work in keeping his growing team from getting too despondent over a close Game 1 loss – but it was David West that did the most damage down the stretch in deflecting two LeBron James passes in the fourth quarter for crucial steals.

The work helped mask the reverse doughnut of a performance that West gave Indiana in Game 2. Hot off the heels of a 11-17 shooting performance in Game 1, West hit his first look on Friday night to continue his scoring streak against the Heat. Though this gave West 28 points against Miami’s tough defense in the series’ first 41 minutes (a continuation of a regular season that saw David average 22.7 points per game against the Heat), West struggled from there on out.

The Pacers did not make him a focus of their offense as they did in Game 1, a response to Miami’s pressure and adjustments defensively, but West had his looks. And he pressed, aiming jumpers and runners and missing his next seven shots before hitting a needed jump hook late in the fourth quarter. West’s defense, screening, and rebounding made it so the former All-Star wasn’t a millstone, and those two fantastically timed steals gave West a winner of a game overall, despite that 2-9 shooting.

That has to be his low point, though, for the Pacers to move on.

The Heat did well to deny early entry passes into West and to crowd him out of his usual midrange looks, but the attempts he had in Indiana’s half-court offense were quite makeable – be they straight on jumpers or one-handed attempts. In Game 3 and beyond, Miami’s excellent coaching staff will be focusing and possibly eliminating the factors that turned Game 2 into Indiana’s win, and Game 1 into a too-close Heat victory: Roy Hibbert’s ability to lope toward scores, Paul George’s penetration attempts, and an Indiana defense that has allowed for the LeBron James Show and little else over two contests.

That’s going to change in Game 3, because Erik Spoelstra and his staff know how to make changes on the fly, and because the Miami Heat knows how to execute. The team might be shook, and they deserve to be worried about this series because the Pacers are that good, but the Heat are also an angry team that doesn’t feel like it should made to be looked upon as even with a Pacers team that lost twice at home to the Toronto Raptors this year.

This is why David West -- the once-adjusted-for David West – has to be a difference maker offensively all over again.

With the Heat crowding Hibbert – the Pacers know this help is coming, but that’s different than being able to do something about it in the moment – West has to act as the release valve. Both as a high post option to reverse to in order to make an entry pass back into Hibbert, and a scoring threat of his own. Plus, West will have to react to a Heat rotation that may feature new parts in an attempt to pull away from these pesky Pacers.

Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem mean well, they show up in all the right spots on either end, and they’re putting it all out there. They’ve also combined to miss 13 of 14 shots in this series, Haslem had the lone make, with Battier seeing what should have been a wide open three-pointer blocked by West in Game 2 because of his slow release from the corner.

Reserve Chris Andersen may not have played as well in Game 2, he fouled five times and was posterized by Paul George in the third quarter, but he still hasn’t missed a shot in this series. More important to coach Spoelstra is his ability to effortlessly cut and gather the toughest passes for scores, an entirely different wrinkle from Battier and Haslem’s stand-still shooting. Andersen has really turned into one of the game’s best off-ball players in that area, something perfectly suited to pair with LeBron James’ genius.

(Even if the Heat may ask James to be less of a “genius” and more of a “George Gervin” down the stretch of Game 3, avoiding the sort of turnovers that sometimes result when you make the right pass.)

If Andersen is paired with Chris Bosh, this means West will be given the task of keeping his eye on the prize (LeBron James, sizing the defense up), while staying with a mover in Andersen that demands attention and appropriate reaction.

Then he has to go down to the other end and hit 9-17 from the field just so the Pacers can “do what they’re supposed to do” on the home court.

It’s no easy task, but West is up for it. David is one of the more admirable players in this game, and he’s been waiting too long to go out shooting 2-9 again.

West came back remarkably well from an ACL tear that hit before the NBA lockout started in 2011, and has gutted through injury during both the regular and postseason this year. After years of capped-out teams and an obsession with Al Harrington, the Pacers weren’t allowed to bring in free agents to guide their young core, but former el jefe Larry Bird took a chance on an undersized, 31-year power forward coming off of knee reconstruction surgery in December of 2011, and it’s paying off.

This series will remain competitive just as long as West starts hitting again. If he doesn’t, the Heat could take back both the home court advantage and the momentum by the time the third portion of the three-day weekend hits. Because he’s a player that doesn’t take weekends and holidays off, we expect David West to be quite aware of this.

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