May 28, 2013, 5:44 PM EDT
Somewhere around Game 4 or 5 of a series there are no more secrets. You know the other team’s plays, the tendencies, the adjustments they made, the matchups they are trying to force. You take away everything you can and try to leave your opponent with only the worst options.
We are at this point in the Eastern Conference finals, basically. It’s 2-1 Heat. For Game 4 there will be adjustments but the Heat have a really good idea what is coming. You can bet the Pacers are going to start throwing different looks at LeBron James in the post, fronting, doubling from different angles. LeBron is a gifted passer so the Heat will have shooters out spacing the floor, the man of whomever doubles will cut to the basket.
And it comes down to who executes.
Expect Game 4 to be a whole lot closer than Game 3, expect a genuine desperation from the Pacers. If they can slow LeBron in the post and still run Ray Allen and Shane Battier off the three-point line, they can even up the series. If Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh are knocking down midrange jumpers and the Heat are moving the ball and hitting threes, the Pacers can’t stop them.
This is really about defense for the Pacers. Offensively they have actually scored well above their season average in points per possession in this series — they are putting up points on a good Heat defense. It’s just not enough because they haven’t been able to stop Miami.
After Game 3 it’s fair to ask if the Pacers can play at the Heat’s level? But it’s just as fair to ask if the Heat can maintain that level? This is a much grittier, tougher, better Pacers team than the one the Heat vanquished a year ago and you can expect their defense to be more physical tonight, as will their efforts to establish Roy Hibbert and David West on offense.
But again, if Haslem is near perfect and Chris Andersen remains perfect (he’s 13-of-13 in this series) — basically, if the Heat are getting serious contributions from players not named LeBron there is not much the Pacers can do.
Game 4 is now less about strategy and more about execution and intangibles. The Pacers have made big strides from a year ago in those areas.
But will it be enough to even this series and make it a best of three.