Sloppy plays down the stretch has cost the Miami Heat two games during their series with the Indian Pacers; one game at home and one game on the road.
There’s no doubt in my mind that this series could have been and should have been a sweep.
Playing the most intense game of the entire playoffs, Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals had to be also the most entertaining. Rising star Paul George and NBA regular season MVP LeBron James went back and forth with each other, reminding fans of an old school heavyweight title bout.
This game came all the way down to the wire and the stars did not disappoint.
With the Game 1 on the line and just a few ticks left, George knocked down a lead-changing three-pointer, silencing the Heat crowd. The game appeared to be over.
However, with only two seconds remaining in the game, the Heat turned to their leader. And James delivered.
James, guarded by the tenacious George, usually shoots a jumper in these critical moments. This time was different. Instead of heaving up an outside shot, James caught the inbound pass and went straight to the rack uncontested.
Game over. James and the Heat win the game by one point.
George, thinking he knew James’ game plan, played the jump shot, giving the Miami star a free lane to the rim. In Game 2 of this evenly-contested series, the Pacers would play just as intense, beating themselves up thinking they let one slip away a few nights before.
However, the Heat weren’t going to hand over the game just because the Pacers were hungry for victory, so I thought. George played up to expectations, contributing 22 points to go along with a dominant inside game by Pacers center Roy Hilbert, who lead his team in scoring with 29 points, while adding 10 rebounds.
Miami maintained control despite Indiana’s resiliency. That is right up until the unexpected happened. James turned the ball over twice with under three minutes to play which lead to points for Indiana. Within seconds all the momentum had shifted.
The Pacers went on to win 97-94.
Miami rallied in Game 3, playing the way we expect them to play every time they step out on the court. The keys to the Heat’s victory was getting everyone involved offensively, playing aggressive collective defense, and scoring high percentage baskets.
Game 3 was definitely a statement game for the Heat, emphatically sending the message that we are the champs and if you want the crown you’re going to have to take if from us. Sending Pacers fans home prematurely with under four minutes left in the game, the Heat dominated on both sides of the floor.
George could only watch in the closing minutes from the sidelines, head held down as the Heat embarrassed him and his teammates on their home floor.
A fire was lit under the Pacers as they came out hot in Game 4, scoring the game’s first 13 points. A timeout was called and woke the Heat up from their temporarily daydream, and they proceeded to go on a run of their own.
It continued this way throughout most of the game, like the Chicago two step, back and forth. In the fourth quarter the Heat turned it up a notch and extended their lead. Getting a little careless, Miami failed to get offensive rebounds which led to points for Indiana.
Within a blink of an eye the Pacers had the lead for the final time.
Frustrated with the aggressive play of the Pacers, James would foul out seconds after knocking down a game tying three-pointer. On the next possession, Indiana scores off yet another offensive rebound.
The Heat, now relying on their second closer Dwayne Wade gets called for a travel just before forward Shane Battier knocks down a jumper that would have sliced into Indiana’s lead.
Carelessness and sloppy play caused a talented Miami team to lose two games they had control in down the stretch. As the team heads back to Miami, Thursday night, I think it’s time for another statement game.
Stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh need to shine extra bright tonight and give LeBron a little more help to finish this team off.