INDIANAPOLIS -- Playing short-handed inside for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Miami Heat’s combination of Ronny Turiaf and Joel Anthony found a way to contain the Pacer’s 7-2 center, Roy Hibbert.
Two days after former Pacers’ coach and current president of basketball operations Larry Bird called his Pacers “soft,” Hibbert finished with a modest 12 points and eight rebounds. The result was a 105-93 Heat victory and a 4-2 win in the series.
Three games ago, the favored Heat had lost two in a row and found themselves down 2-1 in the series. They desperately needed someone besides LeBron James or Dwayne Wade to step up offensively. They found that player in forward Udonis Haslem, who scored 14 and 10 points in Games 4 and 5, respectively.
But Haslem’s flagrant foul on Tyler Hansborough in Game 5 was upgraded to a one-game suspension by NBA executive vice president Stu Jackson. It did not help that forward Chris Bosh was already out with an injury and reserve Dexter Pittman — who started at center in Game 3 — also got tagged with a suspension for his own flagrant foul in Game 5.
In Game 6, the Heat faced the unenviable position of playing severely short-handed inside against the Pacers’ front line. It’s safe to say that the Pacers noticed the mismatch in their game-planning.
The Pacers outrebounded the Heat 14-3 in the opening quarter. When journeyman Juwan Howard — who had played less than six minutes in the whole series — trotted out to start the second quarter, the Heat looked desperate to find some help inside.
The Pacers also outrebounded the Heat 37-26 in the game, but that means — even without Haslem’s presence inside — the boards were even for the final three quarters.
Offensively, the Pacers were trying to get the ball to David West — who matched up against the Heat’s Shane Battier — throughout the game. West scored eight points in the opening quarter, helping the Pacers out to 28-21 lead. West went on to lead the Pacers with 24 points in the game, but it wasn’t enough.
“Guys are disappointed,” West said, “but we understand that it’s just not our time yet.”
While the Heat got only seven points and six rebounds combined from Ronny Turiaf, Battier and Joel Anthony, it was their defense that got it done.
“Our role players really impact the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You look at Shane’s line, and all you see is 1 for 7, but you don’t see the other stuff he does.”
Offensively, the Heat did find a boost from reserve swingman Mike Miller who hit three of his four three-point attempts in the second quarter and added another one in the second half to total 12 points on the night.