The Indiana Pacers have done exactly what 99% of the sports media were hoping they could do since last June. They have pushed the Miami Heat into a 6th game in the Eastern Conference Finals. How they did it was probably more intriguing than the fact that they did it. Writers have been examining their supposed corpses as if the scribes were M.E.s and the series were taking place in a morgue. After Game 2’s Pacer meltdown and three convincing Heat wins, few were convinced this series still had a pulse. And yet, Paul George found the rhythm and rode a wave of “green-light” confidence and LeBron James foul-trouble throughout the second half. George, who may now be playing with a clearer head a week after the concussion he suffered in Game 2, simply refused to be denied.
Now the series heads back to Miami for Game 6.
The biggest question: Which Roy Hibbert will we see? If he gets involved early, the Pacers have a real chance to force a Game 7. If not, their offense may grind down to a crawl.
Other than Hibbert’s post-up game, here are some of the most interesting questions heading into Game 6:
- Will Heat center Chris Anderson play? If he does, this makes the Heat interior defense much stronger, but also allows Roy Hibbert and David West to match-up on defense, rather than keeping an eye on Chris Bosh or Rashard Lewis, both perimeter threats.
- Can Paul George stay aggressive when the Heat close out harder on him (with LeBron or Wade) and he has to penetrate or pass? Following that thought, will George attack the rim even if the calls aren’t going his way?
- Will Norris Cole continue to see the bulk of the important minutes over Mario Chalmers? Cole’s on-the-ball defense has been critical in diffusing Stephenson’s pick-and-roll attack. Chalmers has hit several clutch shots over the last few years, which may earn him those 4th quarter minutes.
- Will Stephenson continue to blow in LeBron’s ear? For all the gossip-drama, Sir Lancelot has succeeded in being a distraction for LeBron as much as anyone outside of 2007-2012 Kevin Garnett, or Kawhi Leonard can succeed in disrupting LeBron. He has taken pressure off of Paul George by checking James. Stephenson and Hibbert absolutely must set the tone for the Pacers with their physicality.
- Can George Hill’s defensive abilities lead to some easy Pacers transition points? Hill has had moments of defensive brilliance against Miami over the last two years. Both Georges need to cause havoc on the Heat ball movement for Indiana to get out in the open court.
- Will Wade’s knee cause concern for the Heat? Though some feel this may be overblown, this is the point in the series where Wade’s lingering knee issues could become a weakness. Without LeBron on the court, Wade had to work harder throughout Game 5.