Slow down, post up
Indiana’s inability to punish the Heat inside in Game 1 wasn’t so much about posts being fronted and not getting the ball inside, but not allowing things to develop enough to see if the read was even available.
Tonight, the Pacers’ biggest adjustment must simply be to have more patience. Too many times, Indiana’s ball handlers rushed their actions and forced themselves into bad spots. On the fronting issue in particular, the player making the entry pass needs to slow down, use pass or shot fakes to make the defense commit to either helping on the big or staying on the shooter, and then make the corresponding read.
Once the Pacers show some poise, then the tactical adjustments can be made. The first being that head coach Frank Vogel needs to eliminate any post ups on the block for players not named Roy Hibbert. David West is much better facing the basket and none of the Pacer wings have shown enough post dominance to warrant touches other than in extreme situations (like Granger with one foot in the paint and Mario Chalmers switched onto him).
Vogel also needs to switch how he is getting Hibbert his post looks. Miami’s fronting scheme is most effective in two situations: when the Pacers run a cross screen into a post up or when they simply look for him in transition. In both of these situations, weakside helpers can easily position themselves to deny the lob pass over the top. The easiest way to get Hibbert great positioning is for him to set a ball screen then dive to the weakside block.
Because Miami traps/hedges so aggressively, their big men will be pulled higher onto the perimeter and thus have a longer path to recovery IF the Indiana ball handler does his job by stringing out the trap. Then another Pacer must act as the pressure release to move the ball from the guard to Hibbert in the post. On side pick-and-rolls, this can be accomplished by stationing a wing in the corner (who fills a post entry position behind the ball screen) or having West cut from the opposite short corner to the nail looking to go high-low with Hibbert.
Either action forces Miami to scramble and move in ways that don’t allow their help defenders to load up on the post. Perhaps Indiana’s biggest win would be getting Miami to then call off their aggressive ball screen defense, a scheme that really rattled Indy’s guards in Game 1.
Without Chris Bosh, Erik Spoelstra will be forced to channel his inner Don Nelson. Spo went small during the closing stretch of Game 1, but it will be interesting to see how often he chooses to do so without Bosh around for a full game. Joel Anthony, Ronny Turiaf and Udonis Haslem all acquitted themselves just fine on the defensive end of the floor and on the boards, but all three are total zeros on offense. Haslem in particular has the Heat essentially playing 4 on 5 on offense. If and when Spoelstra pairs two of them together, the Pacers natural counter with their length might be go zone, which could potentially eliminate effective Dwyane Wade post ups.
The Pacers have barely played zone all season and there’s no way of telling how “game-ready” the tactic is. But with two non-shooting bigs and Wade on the floor, a zone has the potential to really slow Miami’s attack. That could be the most interesting thing to witness going forward, especially since Vogel has hinted at using a zone before the series.
If the Pacers try a zone or the Heat look to go small for longer stretches, it could be time for Spoelstra to dust off James Jones and see if the one-dimensional sniper can carry the team for small stretches with his shooting. After all, with now Bosh out, Lebron in space may be the thing that helps the Heat advance to the conference finals.