May 30, 2013, 2:26 PM EDT
Forty percent. That is the key number.
So far in the Eastern Conference Finals the Indiana Pacers have grabbed the offensive rebound on 39.9 percent of their missed shots — four out of 10 times they miss, they get a second chance. A fair amount of the time that is an easy tip-in or put-back for two.
Those easy extra points, combined with the Pacers ability to get the ball inside — and with that draw fouls and get to the free throw line 35 times a game (the average this series) — has Indiana scoring enough points to have the series tied 2-2 with the heavily favored Miami Heat.
Thursday night’s Game 5 is the obvious swing game and if the Heat a shot to repeat as champs the task before them is obvious but not simple — if they can’t keep the Pacers’ huge font line of Roy Hibbert and David West away from the offensive glass, keep them from owning the paint, the Heat will be facing elimination on Saturday night.
The rebounding woes for Miami are not all on Chris Bosh (who takes the brunt of blame) — Miami has been a team rebounding squad all year. Particularly on the offensive end, where Bosh is used to space the floor and is not in a position to grab a rebound. Everyone — Chris Andersen and the good rebounding wings of the Heat, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade — need to grab a lot of boards. And Bosh, too. The Heat have to put a body on Hibbert and West and take back the paint if they want to win. Miami needs to disrupt Hibbert’s offense, he shot 10-of-16 for 23 points in Game 4.
Miami also needs to get production points out of Wade, Bosh and the rest of the role players.
Indiana is a very good defensive team — they are going to make things difficult for LeBron James. Paul George is a good one-on-one defender, to start. In Game 4 he got help as the Pacers did a good job of throwing different looks at LeBron, including double teams when he dribbled a couple times in the post. That will return.
But when you focus on LeBron it has to open up lanes for Wade to drive, midrange jumpers for Bosh and threes for Ray Allen and Shane Battier. The issue for the Heat is haven’t made the Pacers pay outside of Game 3.
Indiana meanwhile has found what works and grown in that identity — they believe they hold the Heat in check and win. Indiana is relying heavily on its starting five, but that unit has been the best lineup in this series by far. The Heat have not had an answer.
The reason Miami is the favorite to win the NBA title is the belief they have another gear. When tested they can improve their level of play to one nobody else can match — they haven’t lost back-to-back games since mid-January. When they lost the first time in this series they came back with a dominant performance — when Udonis Haslem is hitting midrange jumpers there is nothing you can do to stop Miami. They could pull that off again.
If not, they will be playing for their season Saturday night, because you know Indiana isn’t backing down in Game 5.