Note: I don’t get to watch live basketball, especially if it happens in the Eastern Time Zone. Often after watching a game late at night, I find myself lying in bed, unable to sleep, with thoughts like these clomping around in my head.
I think the Pacers are attempting to do something fairly unique to LeBron James: punish him physically.
LeBron is, arguably, the most impressive physical specimen on the planet. I doubt there is any other human who could match his combination of size, strength, quickness, and stamina. He can physically dominate just about any player in the NBA. Conventional wisdom has led most teams to shy away from challenging LeBron physically — the way teams do with a less imposing player like Kevin Durant. Last year, Dallas laid a bit of a blueprint by trying to wear LeBron out by forcing him to guard smaller players.
In this series, we see LeBron mainly guarding two players: Danny Granger and David West. In Game 1, the Pacers tried the conventional method of giving the ball to West and letting him try to score on LeBron. This wasn’t incredibly successful. Since then, however, the Pacers have attacked James differently. Instead of throwing the ball to West and watching him work, West is working on LeBron without the ball, seemingly trying to push, shove, bump, and elbow him at every opportunity. If LeBron fronts West, David shoves him out to the three-point line. If he plays behind him, West shoves him as far under the basket as he can go. When a shot goes up, West boxes him out as aggressively as he possibly can. The message is clear: we can’t beat you unless we beat you.
For his part Granger is doing everything in his power to prove to James that he is not afraid. This occasionally borders on destructive silliness, but it’s important for Granger to assert himself. Granger is not David West, but he is a big, strong man, and he’s not being shy about letting LeBron know that.
Roy Hibbert finally learned how to be the biggest man on the floor.
I’ve been critical of Hibbert in the past, mainly because he’s always come across as soft, both mentally and physically. The best way to defend him has always been to go small because he’s never been able to assert himself against smaller guys. This was obviously not the case last night. For one of the first times in his career, we saw Roy Hibbert realize that he was 4-to-6 inches taller than his opponents and do something about it.
In addition, I think the beginning of the game showed us the blueprint for Roy’s path from above average to pretty freakin’ good: the mid-range game. For years we’ve heard that he is a good shooter (even from Bill Walton), and the assertion seemed to make some sense. He’s a good free-throw shooter. He’s got a soft touch. His form looked pretty good. Yet when he would hoist a mid-range shot in game, the results were often ugly. In the first quarter last night, however, he knocked down every mid-range shot he took (notice I’m refraining from calling them jumpers since I’m not really sure his feet leave the ground). If Roy can add this mid-range shot to his game with Ilgauskas or Nesterovic-esque consistency, he’ll transform from a borderline All-Star into a perennial one.
Balance is the key.
Tim’s already written better than I ever could about the “team” aspect, but one thing I realized last night is that balance is far more than just having multiple guys scoring points. It really applies to every aspect of the game, and when the Pacers are playing well, they’re playing in balance. Balance is Hill and Collison not dribbling 8-10 seconds off the shot-clock waiting to start the offense. Balance is Hibbert and West not taking 8-10 seconds to set-up a post move. Balance is not Granger or George or Barbosa poised in the triple-threat position watching the clock tick down. Balance is making quick and selfless decisions and actions. It is every player striving to impact the game as much as possible no matter who they are guarding or how many shots their getting. Balance is what will help the Pacers win this series, if this is, in fact, a winnable series.
Ball don’t lie.
Dwayne Wade should have been suspended. He had no business playing in that game last night.
But I sure am glad that he did.