The conventional thinking before the season was that Greg Oden would be the Heat’s best way to counter the Pacers’ front-court size advantage.
The conventional thinking (and Erik Spoelstra’s) after the first quarter of Game 1 of these Eastern Conference finals was that starting Udonis Haslem alongside Chris Bosh would be the best way to open games against the Pacers’ combo of Roy Hibbert and David West.
Turns out, neither has turned out as Miami envisioned.
But nobody could have predicted this: The Heat did some of its best work in Game 3 when using a power forward, Rashard Lewis, who didn’t even play in the first two games.
And Hibbert and West, after strong starts, combined for just four points in the fourth quarter of Indiana’s 99-87 Game 3 loss on Saturday.
“They were able to speed us up with their full court pressure and it really hurt us,” West said.
With Haslem and Bosh on the court together, the Heat was outscored by nine points in nine minutes on Saturday and by an obscene 37 points in 34 minutes in this series.
But with Lewis on the floor, the Heat outscored the Pacers by 21 points in 17 minutes on Saturday, including a terrific close to the third quarter, when Lewis played alongside Chris Andersen, who had a team-high seven rebounds in 23 minutes.
Lewis’ numbers (no points, rebounds or assists and 0 for 2 shooting) don’t tell the story of his contributions. He blocked a shot and capably defended West, who made his first three shots but then went 27 minutes of game time before his next basket. And ball movement was crisp with Lewis in the game.
“Rashard did a good job,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.
West closed 5 of 8 from the field, with 13 points, five turnovers and five rebounds.
During the fourth quarter, West was put in the unenviable matchup of chasing Ray Allen, a job for which he is ill-suited. Allen hit four big three-pointers in the quarter, and the Pacers were outscored by 21 with West in the game and by 21 with Hibbert in the game.
“That’s not a problem for me,” West said of defending Allen. “He got free one time. It was a breakdown on my part.”
With 1:10 left in the first quarter, Hibbert had as many points as the Heat (10). But Hibbert scored just six points the rest of the game, had just two rebounds overall and took only two shots in the fourth quarter.
“I got my chances,” Hibbert said. “I got to do a better job finishing. I got to be more effective.”
Pacers backup power forward Luis Scola gave Indiana a big lift with eight first half points. But he missed his only shot of the second half.
Spoelstra insisted before the game that the Heat never signed Oden “to be a Roy Hibbert stopper.”
Oden was active for the first time in this series but still couldn’t get in the game.
Hibbert hit five of six shots against Oden in the first six minutes of the Heat-Pacers game on March 26, but Spoelstra insisted Saturday that game is not affecting his thoughts about using Oden.
Oden admits not playing in this series wasn’t what he expected when he signed with the Heat last summer. But Oden said he doesn’t regret signing here.
“I want to help, but if they don't need my help and we win, I'm perfectly happy,” he said. “I’m happy to be on this team and have the chance to win the championship. That’s all I really think about these days. This is the furthest I’ve been in the playoffs, so I’m happy.”
Oden said he has dealt with physical issues “here and there” over the past month — a sore back was the only one he disclosed — but “my knees haven't had any problems recently.”
Oden’s agent, Mike Conley Sr., said the Heat has not indicated if it wants to re-sign him.
“He wishes he was playing, I wish he was playing, but I understand,” Conley said. “The Heat did a great job bringing him along slowly” after being sidelined for four years with knee issues. “His knees have been fine.”
But Conley conceded not playing has been “a little frustrating for him,” even more so because “there is a rivalry with Hibbert and Greg.”