Udonis Haslem breaks out to help give Heat series lead
Veteran forward racks up double digits to help Heat regain home advantage, rattling Indiana's Hibbert in Eastern Conference finals
The Indiana Pacers did not see this version of Udonis Haslem coming. There was no reason to.
Haslem, a veteran forward who had scored in single digits in six of his previous seven play-off games, finished with 17 points on 8-for-9 shooting to help the Miami Heat beat the Pacers 114-96 in game three of the Eastern Conference finals.
The Heat took a 2-1 lead in the series and regained home-court advantage with game four set for tomorrow morning (Hong Kong time) in Indianapolis.
Haslem went a quiet 1-for-7 from the floor in the first two games of the series, but he looked for his shot early and often in game three. His mid-range jumpers constantly left 2.18-metre-tall centre Roy Hibbert out of position.
Hibbert had been playing slightly loose defence on Haslem and Chris Bosh to help protect the rim and the lane against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Hibbert said Haslem's effectiveness forced him to change his approach.
"He was really the guy that pushed them, the catalyst for them," he said. "Just him hitting those shots really made us have to think on defence. Who do we guard? Do we guard the paint, or do we have to go out to the shooters out in the corner."
Pacers coach Frank Vogel was heavily criticised for taking Hibbert out of game one before James' game-winning lay-up. Vogel said he made the move because he was worried Bosh would get open for an easy jumper. The Heat spent 48 minutes showing Pacers fans why Vogel's game one decision might not have been such a bad idea.
"That's what Miami does, they space you out," he said. "They make it difficult to have a rim protector in the game at all times. They challenge you to keep a guy at the rim and still make them close out to an 18-foot jump shooter. We have to account for that."
While Haslem and Bosh pulled Hibbert and power forward David West away from the basket, James took over as the Heat's post presence, overpowering and dominating All-Star forward Paul George.
"I made a conscious effort to get down in the post tonight, to put pressure on their defence," James said. "The coaching staff wanted me to be down there tonight, and my teammates allowed me to do that."
James, bouncing back after two late turnovers cost Miami in game two, had 22 points, four rebounds and three assists. Hours after Wade learned he would only be tagged with a flagrant foul from game two and not a suspension, he finished with 18 points, eight assists and four rebounds. Bosh added 15 points and three rebounds, and all five Miami starters reached double figures.
Miami outscored Indiana 56-32 in the paint, but perhaps that much should be expected from a team with this much scoring punch - one that has won 23 of its last 24 games on the road.
The other stuff, not so much.
Miami committed a play-off franchise-low one turnover in the first half and finished with only five. James finished with none.
The Heat shot 54.5 per cent against a Pacers team that finished the regular season with the NBA's best defensive field goal percentage and also made 24 of 28 free throws.
They matched the highest scoring output in a quarter during this season's play-offs with 34, broke the franchise play-off record for points in a half (70) and fell one point short of tying the third-highest point total in a play-off game in franchise history.
But the biggest difference between the first two games and Sunday night's rout was James' work on the inside.
"It was something we wanted to get just to help settle us and get into a more aggressive attack," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the decision to post up the 2-metre James. "We wanted to be a little more aggressive, a little more committed to getting into the paint and seeing what would happen. LeBron was very committed and focused not to settle."
Now it is the Pacers turn to make adjustments.
West led Indiana with 21 points and 10 rebounds, while Hibbert had 20 points and 17 boards. George finished with 13 points and eight assists, not nearly enough for the Pacers to remain perfect at home in the postseason.
Miami took advantage of a wild first quarter to build a 34-30 lead, then turned the game with James taking control in a 12-point second quarter. He scored half of the points in an 8-2 run that gave the Heat what was then their biggest lead of the series, 42-32.
A few minutes later, James did it again, making a 15-footer with 1.3 seconds left in the half to give Miami a 70-56 lead at the break - and the franchise record.
Indiana opened the second half looking more like the team that had given Miami fits in games one and two. The Pacers hit back-to-back 3-pointers and got a three-point play from George Hill. When Lance Stephenson followed that with one of two free throws, the lead had been cut to 74-67.
It did not last.
Miami countered with a 9-4 run, extended the lead to 91-76 after three and made it 99-78 early in the fourth. Indiana never challenged again - the 18-point margin matching Indiana's worst home loss of the season - even though James scored only four second-half points.