Basketball is a team game. Basketball is a team game. Basketball is a team game.
The sport’s oldest truth was well on display Tuesday night, when the Indiana Pacers dropped the dreaded Miami Heat by a score of 99-92, knotting their Eastern Conference Finals series 2-2. Roy Hibbert led the Pacers with 23-13 (his third straight 20-10 performance), and LeBron James had 24-6-5 before he fouled out in the last minute.
We can talk about the weird fourth quarter (LeBron isn’t going to foul out again, and D-Wade will – hopefully – never look that clueless in the clutch again) all we want, but it probably won’t be repeated again, so let’s discuss some trends moving forward.
1. Indiana plays better team ball, in ways that aren’t always reflected in the stat sheet (although, with every starter scoring more than 10 points, that does tell a large part of the story). Reggie Miller made a great point during the TNT telecast, saying that (paraphrasing here) Roy Hibbert is playing out of his mind right now because David West is consuming all of LeBron’s energy whenever West is down low. The point grew clear as hell in the fourth quarter, when Hibbert was a rebounding machine, navigating his way through Miami’s defense at will. Indiana’s talented squad has the luxury of attacking Miami in more ways than one; Tuesday night, it was a crash-course on the importance of a true center.
2. Lance Stephenson is going to get better. The legend continues to grow for Brooklyn’s finest, who provided the kind of consistent outside pressure that Indiana needed to complement Hibbert. Born Ready finished with 20 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists on 9-15 shooting (including an incredible three to end the Pacers’ third quarter on a high note), and seems to finally have the head on his shoulders needed to be a good NBA player. Sky’s the limit for Stephenson right now.
3. On the other end of the spectrum, Dwyane Wade looked bad Tuesday night. Once again, we have to inquire about his overall health, because the lack of explosion is just too apparent sometimes. He still gets to the line, but Miami is such a top-heavy team that the 15 PPG he’s been running with over the last five games won’t cut it. And that blatant travel/double-drible at the end of the fourth? Someone’s been referring to LeBron too much.
Feel free to drop your own observations in the comments below. This game proved that, despite the Heats’ aura, Indiana has something to thump their chest to as they march into American Airlines Arena this Thursday, a game that wears the “must-watch” crown comfortably.
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