The Miami Heat’s three-point shooters have been acting like a dormant volcano. They are bound to erupt, but when?
The long-range game has got to escalate from cool to lava-hot if Miami is to dispatch the bigger, bulkier Indiana Pacers in their Eastern Conference championship series.
It was midway through the Indiana playoff series last season that Miami’s outside shooting specialists hit their groove. Perhaps the same thing will happen Sunday or Tuesday in Indianapolis. It did not on Friday, when no long-range shooters came to the rescue in a 97-93 loss to the Pacers.
LeBron James attempted to make up for his team’s inaccuracy and salvage another victory at AmericanAirlines Arena. But he had too much to do as the Heat’s frantic multi-tasker at the end, and it resulted in two turnovers that shifted opportunity back to the Pacers.
The series is tied 1-1, could easily be 2-0 in Indiana’s favor, and the tone isn’t promising. Miami should be fast-breaking the Pacers. Instead, Miami is capitulating to Indiana’s style, and on its way to the arena where the Pacers are 6-0 in the playoffs.
Miami’s three-point offense is so essential to its success as a team defying the odds — and the giants — by playing positionless basketball.
The Heat has dominated the NBA despite being the worst rebounding team in the league. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, Pat Riley and their cunningly devised roster have compensated for the weakness on the boards.
Snipers Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mike Miller and now Norris Cole, too, lure defenders out to the perimeter, thus disintegrating the clump around the post.
Miami needs its corps of three-point shooters to open up the game and relieve the burden on James. But Miami made only 7 of 22 threes on Friday. Allen and Battier missed all four of their attempts. Allen, Battier, Cole and Miller scored a total of 12 points.
“Everybody was raving about our depth, that’s one of our strengths and we’ll continue to go to those guys,” Spoelstra said.
TNT commentator Kenny Smith has likened Miami’s small-ball escape artistry to a “Houdini” act. He doesn’t think Miami can win multiple titles without a more conventional center or at least more rebounds.
Indiana is just the team to expose the Heat’s defect. Roy Hibbert, the Pacers’ 7-2 center, scored a career playoff-high 29 points. When the Pacers have trouble scoring, or revert to impulsive offense, Hibbert is a threat to turn any miss into bonus points.
“We make them go over us and not through us,” Hibbert said. “We got the split, but they play explosive and nothing is given. We’re a tough-it-out team, and we learned from last year, we learned from Game 1. A lot of times teams start buckling. We stuck together.”
For much of the second half, the Heat was able to bang in the paint with the Pacers. James was fearless in his drives. James even went mano-a-mano with Hibbert, and blocked one of his point-blank shots in the post.
But that’s a painful, risky path to sustain against Indiana’s bigs.
Miami failed to extend its four-point lead in the closing minutes. Missed three-point shots by Allen, James, Mario Chalmers and Chris Bosh were missed chances to put the Pacers away or for James to collect himself. The score was tied at 91 with 3:06 left. Down the stretch, the Heat was outrebounded 5-1.
James hit his third three early in the fourth as the lead see-sawed between the two teams in another foul-clogged game.
But nothing he did could make up for Paul George’s surge and for sub-par contributions from Allen, Battier and Cole. Allen, shooting 16.7 percent on threes against Indiana, also missed two free throws — something you see about as often as Skunk Ape in the Everglades.
Going into Friday’s game the Heat was shooting 33.5 percent from three-point range in the playoffs, off the season average of 39.6 percent, which was second in the NBA to Golden State. Miami has made just 30 percent against Indiana.
Battier is 12 for 52 overall and 0 for 7 against Indiana. Spoelstra was steadfast in his allegiance to Battier, who offers a host of assets, but finally inserted Miller for his first appearance since May 16 with 3:13 left in the first half. Miller sank a three at the halftime buzzer. Miller was so rusty from disuse that he immediately clutched his rib cage, and didn’t come back.
That brought back memories of Miller making seven three-pointers against Oklahoma City in last year’s clinching game of the NBA Finals.
It’s time for Miller and his mates to bring those memories alive. They are due to get hot.