The first half of the 2013 NBA Finals have been set, as the San Antonio Spurs swept the Memphis Grizzlies to be crowned Western Conference champions. On the opposite end, however, the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat are tied at 2-2, with neither team having yet to grab full momentum.
If the Pacers are to pull out this monumental upset, they must play through their big men.
The NBA has attempted to eliminate big men, as they tend to slow the game down and offer less glamorous baskets. Such has been evident in the league's removal of the center position from All-Star game ballots.
Since then, we've seen six centers make the All-Star game and others absolutely dominate the 2013 NBA playoffs.
Perhaps no team has benefited from their presence of elite big men quite as much as the Pacers. Not only did they dismantle the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks by protecting the rim, but when pounding it inside, they scored with supreme efficiency.
Suddenly, coaches are realizing what we've known all along: When you have players that shoot from close to the basket, they're much more likely to make the shot.
Did we really need to explain that?
During Indiana's series against the Heat, they've exploited Miami's weak interior and thus pulled out two surprising wins. That's not including a Game 1 road loss in which they were in the lead before LeBron James hit a game-winning buzzer-beating layup.
A play that resulted from Frank Vogel questionably benching Roy Hibbert.
Marc Gasol may have won the Defensive Player of the Year award, but a case could be made that Roy Hibbert was equally as deserving. Not only is the 7'2" big man a dominant shot-blocker, but he keeps opponents out of the paint.
Just ask LeBron James.
Below is a quick look at James' drives versus the Pacers (statistics provided by ESPN Stats & Info):
|Hibbert On Floor||Hibbert Off Floor|
|Passes||11 (61.1%)||3 (30%)|
Perhaps none of those drives were as important as the two LeBron had during Game 1, scoring clutch baskets as coach Frank Vogel oddly removed Hibbert for late-game situations.
It's not just James who is affected by Hibbert's presence, as Chris Bosh has been the player suffering most from Hibbert's defensive presence. Not only is Hibbert three inches taller and 45 pounds heavier than Bosh, but he's also dominated the All-Star.
Thus far, Bosh is shooting 45.2 percent on two-point field goals and is pulling down just 3.3 rebounds per game against the Pacers.
Miami is a notoriously poor rebounding team, ranking dead last in the category during the 2012-13 season. With that being said, Bosh grabbed 8.3 boards per game during Miami's first two postseason series.
He hasn't grabbed more than five against Indiana.
Roy Hibbert steps in at 7'2" and 280 pounds, while David West is 6'9" and a powerful 250 pounds. Both players thrive working out of the post and each has a reputation for playing a physical, aggressive style of play.
Only two players on Miami's roster weigh at least 250 pounds—LeBron James and Juwan Howard.
If that's not enough, the tallest player on Miami's roster is Chris Bosh, who stands at 6'11" and 235 pounds. As previously alluded to, Bosh looks like a guard when he's attempting to defend Hibbert in the post.
Can anything scream "positional mismatch" more than those collective numbers?
It's no coincidence that Hibbert is averaging 22.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.0 block on 54.1 percent shooting from the floor. David West's averages of 18.5 points and 8.5 rebounds come as expected, but it's his ability to dominate physically and still step out for a mid-range J that makes him so lethal.
Together, they are a tandem that Miami simply does not have an answer for.
West has struggled from the free-throw line at times, but he also went 9-of-10 during Game 2 and shot 76.8 percent during the regular season. Hibbert, meanwhile, shot 74.8 percent from the charity stripe during the regular season and has hit 80.6 percent against Miami.
The Heat can't hack them and they're failing in defending them clean. Frank Vogel would be in line for an IQ test if he doesn't pound it down low.
Creating for Perimeter Players
As magnificent as the Indiana Pacers' interior has been, perhaps nothing has been as pleasant of a surprise as the high-quality play from their perimeter. Led by Paul George, George Hill and the upstart Lance Stephenson, the Pacers have been efficient on both ends of the floor.
With that being said, Miami's elite defense hasn't struggled to slow those three down on accident—it all starts inside.
Due to the undersized nature of the Heat's interior, perimeter players are often forced to drop down and provide help pressuring the post. This opens the door for the Pacers' perimeter players to shoot the three or put it on the floor and draw fouls from out-of-position defenders.
The same impact is being found defensively.
The Heat are a horrendous rebounding team, which has led to an all-hands-on-deck type of approach. With Roy Hibbert and David West dominating the glass, with notable efforts from George, Stephenson, Tyler Hansbrough and Ian Mahinmi, even guards are forced to crash the boards.
In turn, Miami's transition defense is often exposed—and it doesn't always have this to look forward to:
A marvelous play, but it's one that shouldn't be needed.
LeBron James has been the player most significantly affected by Indiana's interior, as he's often the help-side defender. Even when he doesn't dive, he must be conscious of the players posting up behind him.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Paul George has taken advantage of this by shooting 62 percent when LeBron is defending him.
Indiana needs a complete effort from their players, as possessing a two-man attack simply will not be enough against a team as good as Miami. With that being said, Indiana has a significant edge down low and it can control the pace of any game if it exploits that advantage.
It's on coach Frank Vogel to recognize that and provide Hibbert and West with the necessary touches.