I started to replay Game 1 with the hope that I would be able to look at specific breakdowns over the course of 48 minutes, identify trends, and quite possibly, write a brilliant analysis of what Miami's problems were and how they could be corrected in Game 2.
The truth is I could barely make it through the first three minutes.
Honestly, I don't know how Grantland's Zach Lowe does it. He's written before about learning to be completely detached from the subject matter (in this case basketball) in order to clinically diagnose what a team does well or not. I'm not there yet, probably won't ever be.
But I can tell you that those first few minutes did provide a glimpse into Miami's problems, ones that impacted the Heat throughout the rest of the game.
Here's a quick look:
11:48 - Chris Bosh takes his first of five missed 3-pointers. Bosh's outside shooting has been a great weapon all year, providing the necessary spacing to allow LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to go to work in the painted area. Going 0-5 doesn't help. The positive aspect to this offensive possession was that head coach Erik Spoelstra's starting lineup worked by having Roy Hibbert guard Bosh. Wade drove the lane forcing Hibbert to rotate and protect the rim (his natural tendency), thereby leaving C.B. open from long range.
11:40 - The Bosh miss led to a George Hill rebound and semi-fastbreak opportunity. Hill speeds downcourt and Mario Chalmers races to cover him. Lance Stephenson trails right behind Hill and is open from the wing. As Hill passes to the open Stephenson, Chalmers rotates to cover the shooter while Hill sneaks back to the corner, gets the ball back from Stephenson, and rises up to take an uncontested 3-pointer. Shane Battier was late rotating onto Hill. If you remember the broadcast of the game, Spoelstra was overheard during a timeout to stay focused and talk more, stating that Miami's defensive problems were the result of a communication breakdown. This is evidence of that.
11:21 - Bosh finds himself about 7-feet from the rim but passes the ball out to Battier, probably looking to get Shane going from downtown. The pass was a bit shaky, Battier couldn't get to it in time and the Heat commit a backcourt violation. In less than one minute of play, Battier's declining speed has led to an open shot by Hill and a turnover.
11:07 - And here we go. Hill dribbles into the lane, guarded by Chalmers. He rises up for a 6-foot jumper, draws minimal, if any, contact, kicks out his legs and yells. Foul on the shot. I'll save my take on the fouling situation for later in this piece but, within the flow of the game, it definitely benefited Indiana by giving them the belief they could attack the lane and be rewarded with free throws. Wade's early foray into the paint could just as easily have resulted in a foul call. It wasn't. One good point on the play is that Battier was able to stay in front of Paul George defensively. His end-to-end speed might be eroded but he still moves his feet well enough to guard the quicker George straight up.
10:48 - Bosh misses another 3-pointer. On this play, Wade over-dribbled a bit and found Bosh with the shot clock winding down. While Hibbert did a better job on this play of staying with Bosh, C.B. was still open; he simply missed the shot. As we've seen before from Bosh, missing a few shots early on doesn't necessarily mean he'll have a bad shooting night but, in this case, it was a sign of worse things to come.
10:35 - Stephenson connects on a 17-foot jumpshot over Wade. It wasn't a bad contest from Wade; Stephenson simply made a good shot. But, like many Pacers players, he tends to thrive on confidence derived from early positives in a game. He finished the game with 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting. It seems unlikely that he'll shoot as well throughout the rest of the series but he started off hot and played the rest of the game very efficiently.
10:20 - Wade answers with a long shot of his own. One of the few consistently good things for Miami was Wade's play (although he did have some poor shot selection at times). D-Wade finished with 27 points on 12-of-18 shooting; a huge night from him that was wasted in a loss. I'm not sure Miami can count on that type of production but it was a good performance, nonetheless.
10:00 - Hibbert misses a 10-foot hook shot over Bosh. Ol' Roy had pushed C.B. out of the lane to get space (no foul called) but Hill couldn't lob it in time to capitalize. Re-establishing position in the block, Hibbert tries to back down Bosh, can't, and takes the shot anyway. LeBron rebounds and starts the fastbreak.
9:55 - Coast-to-coast drive finishes with a James dunk. Simply unstoppable and the Pacers had no time to get into any defensive set. Only lament is that there wasn't enough of this throughout the game.
9:30 - Pacers look to get Hibbert going and find him again in the low block working on Bosh. He takes and misses another hook shot, the rebound gets batted around, Hibbert takes another shot (misses) but is rewarded with a foul call. I watched the replay repeatedly and couldn't see it - best as I can tell, the foul came from Bosh putting his hand gingerly on Hibbert's back and then Roy stumbled on the shot because he landed on Battier (who was on the floor after fighting for position with West). Can't complain because, had the foul not been called, a rebound and putback from David West would have resulted in two points anyway and at least Hibbert missed one of his free throws. Still, the officiating trend has been set early and it is not good.
9:21 - James drives baseline, bobbles the ball and loses it out of bounds. Hard to see what LBJ was thinking although you can credit this turnover to Indiana's interior defense. Hibbert may have elbowed James in the face but he'd lost the ball just before the contact.
8:59 - West, guarded by James, makes a great cut to the basket, gets a crisp pass by George and finishes with a dunk. It looked like James was cheating a little bit to see if George might try to find Hibbert on the right block. Instead, James simply lost track of West, Hibbert sets a quasi-screen and West cuts to the hoop. Bad defense and good offense.
After three minutes, the score is now 10-4 in favor of Indiana. Clearly a six-point lead isn't insurmountable but the trends that were established early impacted Miami all game long. Here's a quick list:
- Bosh lacked his usual shooting touch and wasn't a factor offensively. Without his spacing and production, Miami loses a vital scoring component
- Indiana got consistent production from all its starters. Although George didn't score early (he finished with 24 points), the Pacers looked to get everyone involved early and it paid off; all but 13 of Indiana's 104 points came from the starting unit. That's astronomical.
- Hibbert's biggest impact isn't necessarily his production but simply how he disrupts Miami's typical defensive schemes. He can be guarded 1-on-1 but his sheer size forces the Heat to shift their defense ever-so-slightly and that results in open shots for his teammates. Udonis Haslem's ability to play Hibbert will be counted on throughout the series and we may not see Battier playing long stretches again.
- James' defense on West was weak. If Battier was a weakness, it was magnified by James inability (or unwillingness) to shade West effectively throughout the game.
- Lastly, the officiating. Homecourt advantage is most tangible in how officials are impacted. They're human, get caught up in the emotions of the game and, at heart, are largely egotistical. They want to have an impact, they want to change the course of the game and, somehow, want to be fair in their ability to judge players. It's a thankless task and Miami has benefited on a number of occasions from bad calls. Every team has. The free throw disparity early on and throughout the whole game (Indiana shot 37 FT compared to Miami's 15. Woof.) is a problem but if the Heat want to win the series, they can't count on getting on the officiating. Having said that, I hope that the referees look at how this game was called and try to minimize inconsistencies in their foul calls. That could've been the difference in this game but it shouldn't have been. Miami has to be better than that.