Eastern Conference Finals, Game 7 Preview: Indiana Pacers vs Miami Heat

The Miami Heat will host the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals tonight. Game 7’s are unique.  We put more anticipation into them.  We think of them as rare and special and often even career-defining.  That pre-season opener the Pacers played at the FargoDome on October 10 against Minnesota?  Not so career-defining.  Mr. Roy “Bad Choice of Juvenile Slang” Hibbert and Mr. Paul “Look How Far I’ve Come” George most likely will not reminisce with their children or grandchildren or nieces or nephews about that 2012 pre-season opener in North Dakota.  In case you’re wondering, George had 5 turnovers in those 22 minutes.  To be completely honest, we have no idea if the elderly Hibbert or George will want to talk about their careers at all when they are in their golden years.  So perhaps all this talk about reminiscing is ridiculous anyway.  Though Fargo is memorable for the performances of Frances MacDormand and Steve Buscemi, that pre-season Pacers game will not stand the test of time.  But Game 7’s are supposed to.  They are supposed to define legacies in the world of sports.  Game 7 is supposed to be when the best players “rise to the occasion” and cement their status as superstars, Hall-of-Famers, and cult heroes.

But what about when they don’t?  They usually take all the blame, but if we want to look closer, the games are often about the role players, the way the tipped rebound bounces, the so-called “50/50 plays,” the charge/block calls. Tonight’s Game 7 might be more about Lance Stephenson than it is about LeBron James or Dwyane Wade.  It might be Sam Young sacrificing his body in the 2nd quarter for a charge or George Hill sinking all of his six free-throw attempts, rather than Chris Bosh’s total line.

More than any individual, I expect tonight’s Game 7 will be about these two teams and their supporting casts. Players 4 through 7 on each roster may win or lose this game, rather than each team’s biggest names.  Assuming that Stephenson and Hill are not sent to the bench with early foul trouble (Indiana’s lack of back-up guards has been a problem throughout the series), the Pacers will likely continue to play the suffocating defense that has turned Miami into the one-man LeBron show in Games 4, 5 and 6.

Chris Bosh’s ankle is clearly a problem (2 of 16 on shots inside the 3-point line in the last three games).  Dwyane Wade’s nagging knee and the presence of Roy Hibbert  have been keeping Wade from slashing to the rim effectively, while every Wade jumper seems to hit the front rim.  Erik Spoelstra deployed his not-so-secret secret weapon in Mike Miller, succeeding in finding some offense in Game 6 (Miller hit back-t0-back threes to close the lead to 6 in the third quarter).  Miller is a liability on defense against David West, but can survive the offensively-challenged Hansbrough.

Ultimately, the Heat will need help from Miller, probably from behind the 3-point line, a place the Pacers are masterful at defending.  In addition, the Heat will need Chris Anderson’s offense (15 of 15 from the field in the series) to support LeBron.  In Games 4-6, the Pacers have controlled the pace of the game, which gives them their best chance to beat Miami.

Frank Vogel’s team will need at least an 8-point lead heading into the fourth quarter of this game to survive the inevitable final LeBron push and to keep the crowd on edge throughout the first three quarters.  The Pacers cannot play from behind and expect to take the crowd out of the game.

Let’s hope we get something memorable, something climactic and something worthy of the anticipation.  Just don’t expect it all to come from Roy Hibbert or LeBron James.  They may be dominant, but they are mere mortals, unworthy of superhero status.  It takes a team to get this far.  Just ask the San Antonio Spurs.

Henry Abbott, writing for ESPN’s TrueHoop, has written a sober account of the mythology behind “big game” players, which helps put things into perspective.  Abbott writes,

A roll of the weighted dice

Let’s pretend for a second that basketball works like a dice game. You roll your dice, I roll mine, we add ’em up and figure out the winner. And every die represents a player.

Only there’s one catch: We don’t have the same dice. Instead of one through six, some of our dice are different and better, with higher numbers on the sides. Maybe one representing a good player like David West has the numbers two through seven. Or a Hibbert die has three through eight.

LeBron James, in this analogy, might be the kind of die that has numbers five through 10 — where his best game is something most on the court will never touch, his worst something lots of NBA players can pull off sometimes.

In any one game, LeBron + Wade + Bosh + the rest of the Heat would be expected to add up to a bigger number than George + Hibbert + West + the rest of the Pacers. The numbers are generally a little bigger on the NBA’s most lauded roster.

Roll them just once, though, and heck yeah Indiana might just get the higher total. But heck no that doesn’t have to mean they have some big-game magic. If you have to pick your dice for the next game, you’d pick the Heat dice, with the bigger numbers, again. That’s Gambling 101.

Even Game 7 can be the kind of game where a poor performance can tell you next to nothing about who’s the better player in the big picture.

For Abbott’s entire article, click here: http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/59044/the-myth-of-big-game-players

Jonah Hall will be watching Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals with two of his oldest friends, with whom he watched countless mid-to-late 1990’s regular season Boston Celtics games.  For this, he is grateful, even if their beloved Celtics are not involved.   Contact Jonah at darkoindex@gmail.com

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