Indianapolis • Pacers coach Frank Vogel walked into Monday’s practice with a simple message for players as they adapt to Miami’s new wrinkle — using LeBron James in the post.
He’s not going to overhaul the team’s philosophy for Game 4. The Pacers just need to execute better.
Less than 24 hours after blowing a chance to take control of the series at home against the defending NBA champs, the Pacers walked back into Bankers Life Fieldhouse trying to figure out what went wrong in Game 3. It didn’t take Vogel long to come up with a few answers.
“We’ve got to do a better job on the ball, we’ve got to be more active on our helps and we’ve got to double [LeBron James] more,” Vogel said before players watched the ugly reminders on tape. “We’re not going to double him every time he touches the ball, but we’ll look at some things and try to break his rhythm.”
Anything would be helpful at this point with Indiana in desperate need of a win, now trailing 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
The Pacers were hoping home-court advantage would help them take command of the series after stealing one in Miami.
Instead, James and his teammates refused to give in against a Pacers team that has repeatedly shown it will not back down from challenges. After scoring 36 points in a Game 2 loss, the NBA’s four-time MVP promised to make up for the two turnovers in the final 30 seconds of that game. Did he ever.
James scored 22 points in Game 3 and seized control of the offense by working from the post. The surprise move allowed the Heat to beat the Pacers at their own game, outscoring Indiana 52-36 in the paint and opening up mid-range jumpers for James’ teammates. The Heat wound up shooting 54.5 percent from the field, setting a franchise playoff record with 70 points in the first half and committing just five turnovers — a performance that even had the Heat calling it their best game of this year’s playoffs.
If Indiana intends to stick around a while longer in the Eastern Conference finals, it can’t fool around with James in the middle.
“I’m much better than I was two or three years ago,” James said Monday when asked about playing the post. “I’ve still got a lot of things to improve, but I could work down there all game now.”
Indiana has the more difficult job — making James less efficient.
Pacers center Roy Hibbert credited All-Star swingman Paul George for making things tough on James throughout the first three games of the series but acknowledged George needs more help from teammates to protect the middle. Vogel is now talking about double-teaming the Heat’s most versatile player. George, a second-team all-NBA defender, has another solution.
“I’ve just got to battle and push him out a little further,” George said.
Miami at Indiana
P Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.
TV • TNT
Heat lead series 2-1