Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, June 1, 2013 at 1:00 AM
Think about this for a moment or two:
The Miami Heat were down 44-40 at halftime in Thursday's Game 5 and appeared a rudderless ship. Worse yet, all the physical shenanigans -- we're talking about Miami point guard Mario Chalmers getting pushy with Indiana forward David West and that whole Chris "The Birdman" Andersen double-shove against usual instigator Tyler Hansbrough -- appeared to be a major distraction for a Heat team that long ago promised its white-clad fans that there would be no distractions en route to back-to-back championships but than came "The Talk".
LeBron James -- who wasn't exactly himself in the first 24 minutes of Game 5 -- gathered his mates and let loose.
Hey, the TNT folks put "tiles" over his mouth so lipreaders couldn't have a field day and than faster than you can say Pat Riley there was Miami rip-roaring its way out of the third quarter gates en route to a 30-13 frame that featured 16 points by "King James" and a slew of wide-open jumpers by forward Udonis Haslem who decided to limit his trash talk and simply cash in on all those passes thrown his way by James who slice/diced and otherwise dissected to death an Indiana defense that seemingly turned soft following that 40-point first-half yield.
So, what do we all expect here for this gigantic Game 6 at "The Fieldhouse"?
Are we gonna get a Heat team that's on a real mission and looking to make short work of a Pacers team that pretty much counts on 40-or-so points per game from front-court stars West and C Roy Hibbert but never really knows what it's gonna get from guards George Hill and Lance Stephenson or is this gonna be a case where someone has to make a late-game shot to win it?
Do keep in mind that in the last three games played in this best-of-seven series, none of the games have been decided by fewer than seven points.
Here's the game-by-game look with pointspread included -- this is how Heat-Pacers has gone so far (please note the home teams are in CAPS):
|5-22||MIAMI||- 8.5||Indiana||103-102 (ot)|
Note: NBA Playoff Betting Favorites are now 40-36 ATS (against the spread) this post-season and remember the Heat is 5-1 versus the vig in its playoff road games this year with 2-0 ATS marks against both Milwaukee and Chicago and -- so far -- a split of the first two games played in Indianapolis.
NBA EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
#1 MIAMI at #3 INDIANA -- Heat leads series 3-2; Game 6 is Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET; TNT
It could well be that this best-of-seven set gets defined by Miami's super-charged third quarter in Game 5 the other night. Much is being made of the fact James took the proverbial bull by the horns and took command of that affair but one major ingredient was Haslem's 16 points on 8-of-9 field-goal shooting and so that's where we start here ... some "role player" on one of these two teams must shine a la Haslem in Game 5 and you might say the "best supporting role player" could be the one who puts his club in the winner's circle here in Game 6.
Naturally, you expect James to gets his points/rebounds/assists -- in case you're wondering the composite number pretty much has been right around 43 and in that epic Game 5 he finished with 30 points, 8 rebound and 6 assists (over!) -- but what happens here on the road for the Heat if sidekicks Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh only come up with a combined 17 points? Simply put, the Heat will need another 16-point type game from Haslem or maybe a 14-or-15-point game from "The Birdman" who was much more effective at the start of this series than he's been in the past couple of games.
On the flip side, the Pacers -- who have yet to hold Miami under 90 points in this whole series -- really needs to force the Heat into one of those 40 percent shooting games -- note Miami a rollicking 38-of-75 for 51 percent in Game 5 -- and to do so Frank Vogel's club must take a different approach in guarding James. No doubt Paul George is doing his best, but he needs an occasional double-teamer to sneak up on James and create turnovers and the best advice we could offer Vogel here is keep the nutty Stephenson off James entirely 'cause it only appears to encite the game's great player.
Two other game strategies here for home underdog Indiana (yes, a 2-point dog at last check, folks):
Number one, take a chance and "go really big" for a few minutes here and by that we mean let the 7-foot-2 Hibbert (22 points in Game 5) team with Ian Mahinmi for a handful of minutes and see what they can produce -- it could be that the tandem really creates havoc in the paint and maybe even draws a few fouls on the valuable Haslem.
Secondly, maybe Vogel should take away some of the ball handling chores for both Hill and reserve D.J. Augustin (no assists in 16 minutes in Game 5) and have a more comittee-type approach. Right now thr Pacer guards are not always getting the ball to Hibbert and West in the best places on the floor.
Otherwise, hats off to the Pacers for their defense on Miami reserve sharpshooter Ray Allen who simply can't seem to shake free for his patented deep-in-the-corner jumpers and good work by George who is active on the glass and proving to the world that he's a prime-time player. But does Indiana need George to go 25-points, 10 rebounds and great "D" on James here just to have a fighting chance?
We shall see, right?
BASEBALL NEWS & NOTES
With all the talk regarding the powerful National League Central where -- heading into this weekend's games there were three teams playing better-than-.600 ball in St. Louis (.660), Pittsburgh (.630) and Cincinnati (.611) -- there has to be a counter-point, doesn't there?
The American League Central doesn't sport a single team playing .600 ball -- Detroit's 29-23 mark (that's a rather ho-hum .558 winning percentage) -- and so you get the sense that a team such as the Minnesota Twins (23-28) could have a semi-legit shot to win this division should maybe Minny swing a deal for a front-line starting pitcher. The Twins are fresh off a four-game interleague series sweep against the Milwaukee Brewers and keeping fingers crossed that they have a new closer as Jared Burton just notched his second save of the 2013 season in Thursday night's 8-6 home win against the Brew Crew. Burton tossed a 1-2-3 ninth inning but one major problem for the Twins simply has been getting late in the game with a lead.
The stats show Minnesota's ninth in the AL in runs scored (with 222) and 12th in the league in team ERA at 4.56 but who knows in this mish-mash AL Central especially when the front-running Tigers appear intent on letting everyone hang around for another summer just as they did last year before making their September/October surge ....
Finally, the aforementioned Pirates have no closer role issues what with RHP Jason Grilli (MLB-leading 22 saves) leading the way. Grilli has been one of the really neat stories in baseball because he was generally an unknown here after the Buccos dealt away RHP Joel Hanrahan to Boston last winter. The $64,000 question is can Grilli hold it together for a whole 162-game season and will Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle know when to rest his new star closer. Keep in mind that Hurdle's feeling heat not to have the Pirates fall apart come August this year and so he may feel pressured into getting Grilli every save he can.