2012 NBA Playoffs: Heat All-Star Chris Bosh's Injury Gives Pacers A Shot
The 27-year-old small forward led all players with 32 points and 15 rebounds as the Heat surged in the final quarter. James and fellow superstar Dwyane Wade combined to score 20 straight Heat points down the stretch. Yet a critical injury to Heat power forward Chris Bosh, the George Harrison to James and Wade’s Lennon and McCartney, will allow the scrappy Pacers to be more than just a minor hurdle in the Heat’s title run. Here’s a look into how both teams match up and what each needs to do to become one step closer to taking home the highly coveted Larry O’Brien trophy.
For the Heat to Win: Fill Bosh’s Scoring Void
In a crushing blow that cannot be understated, Bosh’s abdominal strain suffered in Game 1 looks like it will keep him on the sidelines for the rest of the series and possibly the entire season. While 9 games is a small sample size, the Heat went 4-5 without him this season, scoring almost 13 fewer points (99.9 vs. 87.1) when the seven-time All-Star didn’t play. Centers Ronny Turiaf and Joel Anthony won’t be drawing double teams any time soon, but they need to be viable enough in order to keep constant double-team attention away from James and Wade. James’ strength overpowered Pacers small forward Danny Granger in the first game, and Lebron will need to utilize this mismatch to carry the scoring load, as well as attract attention in order to give Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, and other Heat sharpshooters open opportunities.
Make the Pacers Fear the Whistle
Pacers coach Frank Vogel’s comments about the Heat flopping surely didn’t quell their defensive efforts, and Miami will look to keep up the defensive pressure after forcing the Pacers starting five into 23 fouls in the series opener. Especially crucial will be Anthony and Turiaf’s defense on the Pacers' 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert. While the Heat cannot match Hibbert’s size and skills in the paint, they can limit the damage by luring him into foul trouble. Additionally, James and Wade’s ability to weave their way into the paint and draw contact will need to be a focus of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra’s game plan. The more Vogel has to make early substitutions and use unfamiliar lineups, the better.
Ride the Bench Carousel
It’s been a focus as well as a criticism for the last two seasons, but with Bosh’s absence, it becomes an even greater necessity. The bench needs to put the ball in the basket. While they have the ability, James and Wade can’t be counted on to score 60 or more points on their own. Miller and veteran small forward Shane Battier will need to account for more than the two points in 52 minutes they logged in Game 1, especially to ensure the Heat don’t experience momentum-changing scoring droughts when one or both of the now-Big 2 needs a rest.
Game 1 was not pretty for the Pacers' wing players in Granger and shooting guard Paul George. Granger, the Pacers' de-facto leader, shot 1-10 from the floor and finished with seven points, while George also had only one made field goal and finished with as many points as he had fouls: six. Granger and George have the unfortunate task of guarding two of the league’s top wings in James and Wade, but they need to present more of an offensive challenge to tire out their superstar opponents in the process. Granger is not just a spot-up shooter, so the pressure here also falls upon Vogel to get his best player more touches and offensive opportunities.
Here’s to You, Roy
After receiving his first All-Star nod this season, it’s time for the giant out of Georgetown to use his size to dominate against the Heat big men, the tallest of which is four inches shorter than he. Hibbert can post up better than all but a few centers in the NBA, and presents his squad with a glaring advantage at center on the offensive side. However, his defense is his strength. Hibbert had 3.8 blocks and 10.8 rebounds per game in the Pacers' five-game first-round victory over the Orlando Magic, who also lacked a critical post presence after the injury to Dwight Howard.
Since he no longer has to move outside the paint to guard Bosh, Hibbert will be counted on to be a defensive stalwart to stop (or at least limit) James and Wade when they make their inevitable acrobatic leaps towards the basket. Hibbert will be a restricted free agent this offseason, and the allure of a hefty second contract won’t hurt him in the motivation department either.
While they lack star power, the Pacers possess a bevy of options in the backcourt. With the long and athletic George in addition to a choice between creator George Hill or lightning-quick Darren Collison at point guard, and their midseason trade acquisition in crafty shooting guard acquisition Leandro Barbosa, the backcourt will stay fresh and create open looks in transition. Hill has been moved to the starting lineup recently and is 11-4 as a starter so far. The key for the Pacers' guards is to limit turnovers and ill-advised shots, while still playing at a blistering pace in order to fatigue Wade and Chalmers over 48 minutes.
Prediction: Heat in Seven
With Bosh out until at least next round, Indiana is chomping at the bit with Hibbert and power forward David West both looking to push the Heat around in the frontcourt. It’s not all gloom and doom for Miami yet though. Unfortunately for the Pacers, the Heat have the first and second-best players on the court, and playoff basketball is where stars step up and earn their stripes. James and Wade outscored the Pacers 42-38 in the second half Sunday, and the dynamic duo will make sure Lebron’s quest to not be the only three-time MVP without a championship will continue into the conference finals. Barely.
Schedule (Miami leads series 1-0):
Game 1: Miami def. Indiana, 95-86
Game 2: Indiana at Miami (May 15, 4 p.m. on TNT)
Game 3: Miami at Indiana (May 17, 4 p.m. on ESPN)
Game 4: Miami at Indiana (May 20, 12:30 p.m. on ABC)
Game 5: Indiana at Miami (May 22, TBD on TNT)*
Game 6: Miami at Indiana (May 24, TBD, TV TBD)*
Game 7: Indiana at Miami (May 26, TBD, TV TBD)*