The Indiana Pacers exacted revenge upon the Miami Heat at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse on Monday, thanks to a strong performance by Roy Hibbert. The importance of Game 4 for the Pacers cannot be overstated. They did not want to fall 2 games behind a team like Miami. The 99-92 win evens the series at 2-2. They will play Game 5 on Thursday in Miami.
Miami fans may be tempted to blame the officiating for the loss, but the reality is that bad calls go both ways. The bottom line is that the Pacers won because they play to their strengths and leveraged their size just enough to exploit Miami’s weaknesses. Miami is one of those teams that has for years been lacking in the rebounding and interior defensive departments. They have masked these issues by dominating in other areas of the game. But versus players like Roy Hibbert and David West it hasn’t worked very well, game 3 aside.
Maybe it was the fact that the Pacers had 16 fourth quarter rebounds to the Heat’s 4. Or maybe it was the fact that Hibbert and West have managed to put up 41 points and 20.5 rebounds on average throughout the series thus far on 51 percent shooting.
While it is true the shooting combination of James and Wade has averaged 44 points, 11.8 rebounds and 51 percent shooting, this has been largely negated by excellent offensive rebounding on the part of West and Hibbert, in effect, creating more opportunities for teammates to score. Or, to put it another way, the Pacers 6 offensive rebounds exceeded the Heat’s total rebounds.
And while the Pacers won by just 7 points, that didn’t include a unequivocal shot-clock error that cost them two more chances to score. But you didn’t hear them complaining about it.
In the 4 games they’ve played thus far, Hibbert and West and tallied 82 rebounds. Compare this to the 59 rebounds managed by Miami’s Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh, and it’s no trivial observation. Chris Bosh, for example, has averaged a meager 3.3 rebounds per game so far in the series in large part due to Hibbert and West.
Erik Spoelstra, head coach of the Heat, said, “We have to overcome it. We have to do better. It’s going to take a collective effort when you have bigs like that.”
Spoelstra has tried to compensate for the Heat’s rebounding struggles by capitalizing on the slowness of the Pacers’ big guys. The idea is to force them guard the Heat’s quicker players, and hopefully generate some turnovers in the process. It is a strategy that worked quite well, even though it has not worked nearly as well in this particular series. Witness the fact that the Pacers have not been turnovers prone since Game 1. And Ray Allen and Battier, Miami’s main floor spacers, have combined for 11-of-46 shooting.
Recall that last year, when the Heat’s Chris Bosh was out for a majority of the series versus the Pacers, Roy Hibbert managed just 12 points and 11 rebounds. Fast-forward 1 year and it’s quite the opposite. He is now having his way with the Heat, even with Chris “Birdman” Andersen as a reinforcement. He has thus far averaged 22.8 points and 12 rebounds. And by avoiding fouls he has managed to stay on the floor for 39 minutes.
This, of course, has greatly helped the Pacers, especially considering the fact that Paul George, their leading scorer, has been asked to defend James for over 40 minutes a game.
In Game 4, Hibbert came down with three crucial offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter, thereby averting a potentially disastrous scenario in which the Heat take an 3-1 lead in the series. In all, he had 23 points and 12 rebounds.
Hibbert said, “I’m 275 [pounds]. I gotta throw my body around. It’s a mental thing, really. Do you want to go in there and bang with LeBron, Chris Bosh and Birdman [Andersen] or would you rather just be on the outskirts?”
In the four games played so far, Hibbert has 26 offensive rebounds. It’s a big reason the Heat’s defense hasn’t been as effective as usual. The Pacers 15 offensive rebounds in Game 4 equate to a 49-30 rebounding disparity—talk about a game plan working as planned.
Said LeBron James, “We can’t afford to get beat on the glass by 20 [rebounds]. Can’t happen. As a collective group, we can’t allow that.” James himself leads Heat players with an average of 7 per game.
There are other aspects at play as well. Take, for example, the fact that Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade, who has just one 20-point game so far in the post season— has not been nearly as effective. Also, there is the fact that Lance Stephenson is somewhat of a wildcard. With his wild style of play, he can be a real difference maker, either good or bad.
And then there is the fact that LeBron James himself has not exactly been shooting as well as the Heat would like. In 4 out of the last 6 games he has shot less than 50 percent. While this is decent in its own right, consider that he had not fallen below 50 percent in the 15 games prior to this. Sure, he has played amazingly despite this. But with the rest of the team not playing up to its usual offensive standard, even a small drop in production by James stings a bit more than usual.
Overall, rebounds have made the difference in this hotly contest series, particularly those made possible by Hibbert and West. Nabbing all those loose rebounds give the Pacers second chance points, and creates more chances to score by teammates. All those rebounds have turned this into a 6-game series at least. They have stayed true to their game plan by taking away the offensive glass.