Indiana Pacers proving they’re elite, take 2-1 series lead over Miami Heat

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They say small-market NBA teams who can’t attract superstars have to build slowly and economically.

Knowing that makes Indiana Pacers President Larry Bird’s being named 2011-12 NBA Executive of the Year that much sweeter — in many ways, it’s representative of the job he’s done over a span of four years leading up to what his team did Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The Pacers thrashed the glitzy, superstar-laden Miami Heat 94-75 to take a 2-1 lead in the teams’ Eastern Conference Semifinal series.

And it was Bird’s blue-collar boys — particularly center Roy Hibbert (19 points and a career-high 18 rebounds Thursday) — that collectively have outshined the Heat’s superstars in this series.

 Thursday’s Game 3, and by extension the series to date, has shed light on what a methodical build of a franchise can accomplish: the same things one would expect from a star-heavy outfit like the Heat.

Scoring.

    The Pacers wiped the floor with the Heat on the offensive end Thursday. Four of Indiana’s five starters scored at least 14 points. Two Heat players — LeBron James and Mario Chalmers — scored in excess of 20 points, but Miami’s longtime star, Dwyane Wade, finished with just five after not scoring at all in the first half. Wade looked visibly frustrated all game long, especially during what is sure to be a highly scrutinized heated exchange with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. Additionally, the Heat could not hit anything from 3-point territory (as has been the case all series), going four-of-20 from beyond the arc. Shane Battier, who specializes in on-ball defense and 3-point shooting, missed all six of his attempts from downtown, including any open 3-ball for which he was positioned. Conversely, the Pacers hit eight-of-14 from beyond the arc. George Hill hit three of four 3-pointers as part of his six-of-eight, 20-point evening. Indiana even finally got production from Danny Granger, who added 17 points with nine coming from beyond the arc. Could Granger’s previous lack of production have been what has kept the Pacers from being up 3-0 right now?

  • Defense. As previously mentioned, the Heat couldn’t score with the Pacers on Thursday, and much credit for that has to be given to how Indiana has clamped down defensively. The Pacers held the Heat to 37.2 percent from the field and forced Miami’s stars, James and Wade, into four and five turnovers, respectively. Hibbert, who is making himself a lot of money in these playoffs, blocked five shots. Hill and Paul George have established themselves as legitimate on-ball defenders, contributing heavily to Wade’s two-of-13 night. Even Granger, who hasn’t had much of a reputation as a defender, stole three balls.
  • Rebounding. We’ve heard this story before — the Pacers should have been, and were, the superior team off the boards Thursday. But it was an eye-popping differential nonetheless; Indiana outrebounded Miami 52-36.
  • CLOSING. What have we been hearing from the pundits all this time? You have to have a closer. You have to have a superstar to score in late-game situations. On and on and on. Let’s examine that right quick. The Heat didn’t have Chris Bosh, whose absence likely made things easier for Hibbert to dominate Thursday, but they still had James and Wade to take over in the second half, at the beginning of which the score was tied at 43. That didn’t stop the Pacers from outscoring the Heat 26-12 in the third quarter and never looking back. James scored just six points in the second half; Wade had all five of his then, thus giving way for Mario Chalmers to lead all Heat players with 25 points by game’s end. The Pacers, however, saw all five of their starters record at least a plus-17 plus/minus ratio whereas no Heat starter could break even.

Apparently you don’t need a superstar to close. Might the Pacers, who are looking at a golden (excuse the pun) opportunity to put a stranglehold on this series in Game 4 on Sunday, not need one to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals?

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