It’s one regular season game, but some interesting storylines surfaced following Indiana’s 90-84 victory over the Miami Heat Tuesday night.
LeBron James smothered Paul George in the first half. Paul was looking for breathing room and LeBron wouldn’t give it to him. In fact, Paul saw repeated double-teams which contributed to him going 0-for-4 in the first 24 minutes.
But things changed in the second half. And I was surprised to hear the reasoning. Brian Windhorst of ESPN wrote in ESPN’s Daily Dime that while Paul couldn’t get in the offensive flow in the first half, he still gained an advantage by running LeBron ragged:
“George did run him and James didn’t give in, but he did get tired. Spoelstra had to call a timeout to get James off the floor with a minute left in the first quarter he was so gassed.”
Gassed? He’s turning 29 at the end of the month. How is he tired in a December game? It sounds crazy, but no one has watched LeBron play more games in person than Windhorst. He covered him in high school for the Akron Beacon Journal, covered him for The Plain Dealer when he was drafted by the Cavs, and joined ESPN when LeBron took his talents to South Beach. If Windhorst says LeBron was winded, then LeBron was winded.
So can the Pacers use this to their advantage? Absolutely. Indiana already has a clear mismatch with Roy Hibbert and David West in the post, and now they have a third whenever LeBron switches off of Paul to catch his breath. LeBron is the only player on Miami’s roster who can guard Paul. Dwyane can’t. Ray Allen can’t. Beasley can’t. LeBron is the only one. And if Paul George can get him to exert a ton of energy defending him, it plays into the Pacers hands.
We all know LeBron is capable of taking over games, but Indiana is comfortable with your best player having a big night as long as the supporting cast is kept in check. Spoelstra needed to get LeBron off of Paul because no one else was performing well for Miami, which meant LeBron needed to carry a larger load. Outside of the big-3, Chris Anderson was the only Heat player to reach double-figures. Again…THIS IS WHAT THE PACERS WANT.
These two teams will meet again next Wednesday. Spoelstra can easily counter the “gassed” factor by moving LeBron to Paul during crunch time and take his chances with a lesser defender early in the game. If energy is an issue, then they have no choice. LeBron is at his best when he’s pounding smaller opponents in the post. When he’s tired he settles for jumpers, which is what every defender prays for.
The next game will also be different because of two small forwards who are expected to come off the bench for both teams: Michael Beasley for the Heat and Danny Granger for the Pacers. Beasley has been averaging 11 points per game for Miami and they could have used his point production Tuesday night. Though he entered Miami as a risk, he’s been a pleasant surprise. Granger is hoping to make his season debut Friday, and we’ll all be watching as he tries to integrate himself into a team that, for the first time since 2006, doesn’t revolve around him. He’s going to try to fit in with his teammates, not the other way around. The Pacers need for him to give an effort defensively, be efficient from three-point range, and be willing to make the extra pass. If he does that, his contributions could be invaluable. In the very least, he’d be an upgrade over what Orlando Johnson has given them to this point.
It’s one game, but I look at these regular season games like the early moves in a game of chess. Miami will have an opportunity to counter next week.