Eastern Conference Finals – Game Six
Here we are again, at an interesting NBA crossroad between stats and momentum; a tussle between stubbornness and conviction; torn between the tantalizing and the inevitable. Game Six between the Heat and the Pacers could be the end of a thoroughly entertaining series, or it could be the birth of a truly epic series.
Miami Heat -2.5 at Indiana Pacers (Total: 182)
As much as it sounds lame to say this in a basketball handicapping column, so much of tonight’s result depends on whether or not shots are falling. More specifically, can Udonis Haslem continue defying logic and NOT regress to the norm, and can one of the milk-carton trio of Ray Allen, Shane Battier or Chris Bosh make a cameo appearance in the offensive column? If so, the Heat will get a chance to rest up before facing the Spurs (I think they are reallllly gonna need it).
However, assuming Udonis Haslem does NOT replicate his once (well, maybe twice) in a lifetime performances from Game Three and Game Five (and yes, I admit, I had the dirty pants after writing Udonis would never do that again before Game Five, when he, yes, did it AGAIN), the Pacers have an even larger X-Factor of their own; Lance Stevenson, who will likely determine the outcome of this series. If you thought Tony Allen of the Grizzlies was “Trick or Treat” Tony, you ain’t seen NOTHIN’ until you look at the feast-or-famine stat lines from Lance Stevenson over the last six Pacers games.
In the Pacers three wins (two against the Heat and the Game Six clincher against New York), Lance averaged 18.3 points, 7.7 boards and 3.3 assists. He shot a combined 22 of 40 from the floor (55%). In the three losses to the Heat this series Lance is averaging 6 points, 5.3 boards and 2.3 assists. But the bigger death knell isn’t just his poor numbers – it’s that his poor numbers haven’t dissuaded him from shooting… a lot! He has kept on gunning, hitting only SIX shots on a whopping 27 attempts. That’s 22.5% from the floor. It’s hard to win with that type of inefficiency from the two-guard. Especially when you also factor in the complete offensive aversion of backup Sam Young, Lance Stevenson’s production becomes paramount.
Why his performance matters so vitally for the Pacers is simple; is if he is this wayward, it frees up Lebron to focus solely on Paul George which limits Indy’s only perimeter offensive option when Stevenson is struggling. George Hill isn’t going to beat you, and DJ Augustine isn’t going to beat you (unless of you course you are talking about the PACERS getting BEAT… but his inability to initiate the offense is another topic for another day and an offseason issue for the Pacers to address. The larger point is George Hill MUST stay out of foul trouble for Indy to extend this series.)
I am looking forward to this game, primarily because I will be covering it live from Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. So selfishly, I’d like to see a good game. Objectively? I also BELIEVE it will be a close game. This series has been very tight with the exception of two and a half quarters when several unlilely to repeat factors all collided; Haslem going bananas, George Hill being sidelined with foul trouble and Lance Stevenson jacking up terrible shots. I could see one or two of those happening again, but likely not all three coincidentally. Therefore, the regression to the norm is that this is a tightly contested and fairly even series.
The Birdman suspension thins an already overmatched Miami frontline. Chris Bosh has been non-existent, and even a defensive liability, looking inadequate covering either David West or Roy Hibbert. And, at the risk of tempting the basketball Gods a third time; Udonis Haslem is not going 7 of 7 or 8 of 8 from the floor again. He just isn’t…
So that leaves it all on Lebron’s shoulders. It is certainly possible he wins this game all by himself. He did it for the entire third quarter Thursday night, and he did it for an entire postseason taking the Cavs to the finals five years ago. I think the King will still win this series, but I like Indy to make one last resilient stand at home. Everyone counted the Pacers out after the crushing loss in Game One. They won Game Two. Everyone wrote them off after the blowout loss in Game Three. They won Game Four. And everyone is counting them out now.
Do so at your own peril. I’ll stick with Indy and the points.
Free Pick: Indiana Pacers +2.5