MIAMI (CBSMiami) – It’s hard to call a game for the Miami Heat a must-win, but if the Heat can’t put together a winning formula against the Indiana Pacers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals; the Heat could be in deep trouble.
The Heat walk into Game 5 tied with Indiana 2-2 in the best of seven series, but Indiana has all of the momentum as the series comes back to Miami Thursday night. The Heat have problems across the court with everyone not named LeBron James.
Chris Bosh has been unable to consistently put up any offense or get rebounds. Dwyane Wade has been solid, but not spectacular during the series. Plus, Ray Allen and Shane Battier have been unable to get their shot going with both shooting below 30 percent from behind the three-point line.
The Heat will either begin to solve many of those problems, or by the time the final horn sounds for Game 5, the defending champions could be on the verge of elimination.
“We’re playing against a worthy opponent and if we don’t play well, they beat us. If they don’t play well and we impose our identity, we beat them,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s what this is all about. So let’s lace ’em up and let’s get ready for Game 5.”
Historically speaking, the winner of Game 5 in a seven-game NBA playoff series heads into Game 6 with a big upper hand. The winner of Game 5 goes on to win a seven-game series 83 percent of the time. Miami proved that last year by knocking out the Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and then disproved it against the Boston Celtics in the conference finals.
Still, Miami has been unable to solve its rebounding problem against Indiana and how to stop 7’2” center Roy Hibbert.
Throughout the playoffs, Indiana has led the league in rebounding pulling down 744 rebounds, while the Heat ranks fifth with 490 rebounds in the playoffs. Since the Conference Finals started, Indiana has increased its rebounding advantage through each game, culminating in a +19 in Game 4’s victory over Miami.
The trick for the Heat is they don’t have to win the rebounding battle, but Miami has to keep the numbers close and has to get Chris Bosh and others crashing the boards throughout the game.
Miami also must find a way to get its shooters finally connecting from long range. During the Eastern Conference Finals, Miami’s shooters including Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers and others have yet to find their shot.
Allen, arguably the NBA’s greatest three point shooter of all-time, has seen his 3-point shooting percentage drop 12.5 percent from the regular season. While that’s bad, Battier’s shooting from 3-point shooting has dropped 27.4 percent from the regular season in the conference finals. Battier is shooting a woeful 15.4 percent from behind the three-point line against the Pacers.
It’s not just Allen and Battier who are struggling. Mario Chalmers’ three-point shooting has dropped 7.3 percent while Norris Cole has dropped 7.1 percent. It’s not surprising the Heat are struggling as Indiana was the best defensive team against the 3-point shot, but the degree of struggle Allen, Battier, and others has been startling.
And if the Heat are looking for a player who they should focus on getting involved in the game, look no further than the Birdman Chris Andersen. In the Heat’s two wins in the Eastern Conference finals, Andersen is averaging 12.5 points, 7 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game. In the two losses, Andersen averaged 3.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 0.5 blocks.
The Birdman’s production is typically the end result of good play from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade getting to the basket and kicking the ball out to Andersen for open shots. The same axiom holds true for Allen and Battier on the wings.
Miami also needs to get Chris Bosh going early in the low post and then let him move inside and outside at will throughout the rest of the game. But that’s easier said than done with Hibbert on the low block protecting the rim.
“We know what they run, they know what we run,” Hibbert said. “So I guess it’s more about who wants it more.”
Heat fans should remember though that Game 4 was a complete disaster for the Heat and Indiana still won by just seven points. The Heat shot just 39 percent from the field in Game 4, which was one of the worst performances all season long. Improve that shooting just a bit and it’s a totally new game.
Everything will get started Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. at the AmericanAirlines Arena and can also be seen on TNT.