The Indiana Pacers have decisively seized the momentum in the Eastern Conference Finals after an impressive showing in both Games 1 and 2 against the Miami Heat. They're leaving South Beach with a 1-1 split, but before the upset talk gets out of control, remember: We've been here once before.
The Pacers actually took a 2-1 series lead over the Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals last year. Despite losing Chris Bosh to a strained abdominal in the first half of Game 1, the Heat stormed back to take the series in six games.
Because this Miami team has overcome far longer odds against Indiana in the past, and done so without one of its best players, it's probably a mistake to overvalue the Pacers' Game 2 victory.
One obvious counterargument arises when looking more closely at the Heat's playoff defeat of the Pacers last year.
While Bosh was sidelined, Miami got a string of terrific performances from Dwyane Wade. Anyone who's been watching Wade during this series recognizes how unlikely it is that the Heat guard will average 33 points per game in three straight Miami wins—which is what he did in closing out Indiana the last time around.
Slowed by his advancing age and a balky knee, Wade is simply not that player anymore. Still, there are a few things that clearly favor the Heat in this series, some of which helped them defeat the Pacers last year.
Miami's bench showed up at the perfect time in 2012. In Games 4, 5, and 6, the Heat reserves averaged 38 points per game. This year's supporting cast is better than the one the Heat brought into postseason play last time around, thanks to the additions of Ray Allen and Chris Andersen as well as the surprising growth of Norris Cole. So, it stands to reason that Miami's subs can provide at least as much of a boost this year.
Plus, James took his game to another level when his team ran into trouble last year. His massive Game 4 (40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists) helped the Heat even the series at 2-2.
And turnovers, still a problem for this year's version of the Pacers, cropped up in a big way in 2012.
Miami's win in Game 6 last year had a lot to do with Indiana's 22 giveaways. Based on what we've seen from the Pacers during these playoffs (they have the highest turnover ratio of any remaining postseason team), a similarly careless performance is not only possible at some point in this series, but also likely.
Taking a broader approach, the Heat were flat-out better than the Pacers throughout the regular season. In fact, Erik Spoelstra's boys lost half as many games as Indiana did during the 2012-13 campaign.
Miami won 37 home games to the Pacers' 30 and notched 29 road victories to Indiana's 19. In addition, the Heat's per-game point differential was nearly twice that of Indiana: plus-7.9 to plus-4.0.
There's a case to be made that while the Heat have proved themselves to be better against the entire breadth of the NBA, they've failed to do so against the Pacers, who amassed a 2-1 regular-season record against them.
There's no getting around that.
In many ways, the Pacers are uniquely designed to give the Heat problems. They're huge up front, always an issue against the brand of small ball Miami favors. Plus, Indiana boasts the league's best defense, preventing the kind of easy buckets in transition and at the rim that the Heat typically feast on.
Most of all, the Pacers aren't afraid of the Heat. They proved last year that they were capable of pulling ahead of Miami, and based on the way they've played so far, they've got every reason to believe they can win this series.
Michael Wallace @MyMikeCheck
Roy Hibbert: "They may be the defending champs, but we're coming for them."5/25/2013, 3:59:18 AM
But the Heat still have the best basketball player on the planet, a better bench and the knowledge that they've come back against the Pacers before. Remember, this series is tied at one game apiece; the Heat won last year after falling behind 2-1.
Indiana has a ton going for it, and there's no doubt that Miami has its hands full. But if forced to make a pick, I'd still take the Heat. There's just too much evidence from last year's postseason and this past regular season that shows they're the better team.
It won't be a complete shock if the Pacers win this series, but it's still far too early to start talking about upsets.
All stats via NBA.com unless otherwise indicated.
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