As Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem swarmed around Roy Hibbert seconds into Game 5, forcing Hibbert to throw an errant pass that LeBron James snagged, it was natural to wonder whether this night would be different, whether the Heat would finally come up with an answer to slow the Pacers’ big men.
It didn’t seem that way for the rest of the first half. But it certainly did after halftime.
The Heat changed its approach from the outset, making Haslem — and not Bosh — the primary defender on Hibbert, and employing more double teams on Indiana’s center.
The impact was negligible in the first half, with Hibbert filling the boxscore with 14 points.
But the second half was a different story. Haslem continued to front Hibbert, causing several deflections, and victimized Hibbert on the other end by nailing his jump shot.
David West’s impact also diminished after a 10-point first half, as Bosh stiffened defensively against the Pacers power forward.
Just look at the numbers of the Pacers big men after halftime: Hibbert with 8 points on 2 for 5 shooting, just three rebounds and two turnovers. And West, after halftime, had 7 points on 2 for 6 shooting, and four rebounds.
Hibbert, who had been averaging 12 rebounds per game in the series, closed with only six to go with his 22 points. And the Pacers, who outrebounded the Heat by 84 — 84! — in their first seven meetings this season, finished with just a 33-32 edge.
This, too, was huge: The Pacers’ backcourt was thoroughly ineffective, with Lance Stephenson and George Hill combining for more turnovers (six) than points (five). Stephenson followed his best game of the series with his worst: four points on 2-for-7 shooting.
Hill, who entered averaging 15.4 points in the series, picked up his fourth foul with 6:58 left in the third and finished with one point, shooting 0 for 4.
After committing the early turnover, Hibbert then went to work, scoring on a tip, a dunk, an eight-foot hook shot and a 16-foot jumper.
“Hibbert is just way too big for Haslem,” TNT’s Steve Kerr said in the first half, with Hibbert holding a six-inch height advantage.
Hibbert added a hook shot and a jumper off an offensive rebound in the second quarter.
West, meantime, scored five baskets in the second quarter and it could have been worse if he hadn’t missed four shots in the basket area in the first half.
“This is a beat down. I’m starting to feel sorry for the Heat’s big men,” TNT’s Charles Barkley said at halftime.
Not so fast, Sir Charles. The third quarter brought a dramatic turn; Hibbert’s dunk to start the second half ended up being Indiana’s only paint points in the quarter.
Hibbert missed a jumper and bowled into Bosh for an offensive foul, while Haslem hit all five of his shots in the third — three with Hibbert in the game, including silky jump shots aimed at drawing Hibbert away from the basket.
Hibbert’s hook early in the fourth was only his second and final field goal of the second half.
West also couldn’t blunt the Heat’s momentum in a 30-12 third quarter blitz. He lost his cool five minutes into the third, yelling at Mario Chalmers and then exchanging words with Haslem when Haslem intervened. All three received technical fouls.
Paul George scored 27, but it wasn’t enough on a night James was brilliant in the second half finishing with 30 points.