The Miami Heat were not at their very best in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday night but LeBron James was. For one night, that was enough for Miami to register the basketball betting win. Can they get a complete team effort in Game 6 and put the Indiana Pacers away?
Miami Heat @ Indiana Pacers – Eastern Conference Finals, Game 6
NBA odds. : Miami -7.5
The Heat can win because…
They have LeBron, and Indiana doesn’t. It’s not as though Miami played well as a team in Game 5. The Heat did receive a huge boost from forward Udonis Haslem, who hit eight of nine shots for the second time in the series and became a difference-maker on the floor. However, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – both limited by nagging injuries (a knee for Wade and an ankle for Bosh) – were well below par. Wade scored only 10 points and Bosh managed only seven. Bosh missed almost all of last season’s Heat-Pacer playoff series, playing the first half of Game 1 before getting injured in the third quarter and missing the rest of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Wade was slow and ineffective in the first three games of that same series before getting his knee drained between Games 3 and 4. Wade stormed the gate in Games 4 through 6 of the 2012 Heat-Pacers playoff series, and that version of Wade is nowhere to be found in this year’s Miami-Indiana postseason showdown. With Wade and Bosh unable to score or rebound at a high level, Miami’s “Big Three” really isn’t very big. It wasn’t much of a presence in Game 5, and if you had told the Pacers and head coach Frank Vogel that Wade and Bosh would have combined to score just 17 points between them, Vogel would have loved his team’s chances.
Instead, the Pacers lost… by 11 points. The game was not close at the end, and Indiana came no closer than eight points in the entire fourth quarter.
Such a jarringly unexpected scenario came into being because LeBron owned the moment. The best player in basketball scored or assisted on 25 of Miami’s 30 third-quarter points. He didn’t post up the way he did in Game 3, but he did get into the paint and force Indiana to send multiple defenders to wall him off. When the Pacers reacted that way, James repeatedly found Haslem, who kept nailing jumpers from his favorite spot on the floor, 17 feet from the basket in the left corner. It’s true that Haslem’s ability to make shots is precisely what magnified James’ impact on Game 5, but it’s still very much worth noting that LeBron dominated even when Wade and Bosh were non-factors. That’s not easy to do… but that’s the kind of thing LeBron James can certainly do. It’s why Miami can win Game 6 on Saturday in Indianapolis.
The Pacers can win because…
They are not likely to play so poorly for a second straight game. It is important to understand that while LeBron was great in Game 5, the Pacers were horrible – legitimately bad. When Indiana lost in Game 3 by a lopsided 114-96 margin, Miami simply executed at a very high level. The Heat received solid performances from Wade and Bosh alongside James. Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen also played well, and Haslem hit eight of nine shots, just as he did in Game 5. Miami had six players playing well at the same time on the same night. This has been a rarity for Miami in the series. In Game 5, though, Miami did not have six players who played well. Only three – LeBron, Haslem and Chalmers – were particularly impressive. When Miami has only three players who perform at a high level, and neither Wade nor Bosh is part of that trio, the Heat should struggle. Bosh was supposed to make a difference against the Pacers this year, but he hasn’t. Wade turned around Miami’s 2012 series against Indiana with three explosive performances in Games 4 through 6. He didn’t do much of anything in Game 5 of this series on Thursday night in South Florida.
Yet, while getting something much less than a complete team performance, Miami still won comfortably. That tells you something about the Pacers’ quality of play in Game 5. This was a case of the loser losing the game, as opposed to the winner flourishing due to its brilliance, which was evident in Miami’s Game 3 masterpiece.
Why did Indiana lose Game 5 by a substantial margin on a night when the Heat scored just 90 points? The Pacers’ backcourt turned into a pumpkin. George Hill scored only one point after being a key cog in Indiana’s Game 4 victory. Lance Stephenson, who was and is instrumental to his team, scored only four points. In Game 4, the Hill-Stephenson combo produced 39 points. In Game 5, Hill and Stephenson generated only five points. That power outage, combined with the inability of Indiana’s reserves (chiefly Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin) to do anything, forced the Pacers’ three best players to carry the load. Paul George scored 27 points and snapped down 11 rebounds, while Roy Hibbert scored 22 points and David West added 17. Those three men did their jobs, but the rest of the team didn’t show up.
It might seem like an obvious point, but it bears repeating: The team that can get five or six players to play well on the same night is generally the team that wins in this series. If neither team gets a strong outing from five players, Miami gets the edge because it has LeBron. However, after Game 5’s woeful display, expect the Pacers to receive Game 4-level production from Hill and Stephenson. If Indiana does indeed generate points in its backcourt, the frontcourt of George, Hibbert and West should thrive. This series will go seven games as well.
The Pacers lost in six games to Miami in the second round of the 2012 playoffs. This Indiana team is more resilient and aware of what it needs to do. Miami, meanwhile, is limited by the fact that Wade and Bosh are not fully healthy. Game 5 felt more like an off night for the Pacers than a breakthrough for the Heat. If Indiana maintains its composure, it should even up this series.
NBA Basketball Pick: Indiana +3