It is a basic tenet of all team sports that defense wins championships. If you cannot score, you cannot win. And there are few series that show this better than the 2013 NBA Conference Finals finishing up in Miami tonight with the Heat tied with the Indiana Pacers.
Basketball, like tennis, has limitations on forcing pace. For basketball, the 24 second clock prevents slow pace and forces the most important seconds into the first five. After five seconds, half court defense takes over.
Defense creates opportunities in NBA games, charging the defending team up as it flies down the court before the opposing team can regroup. It also creates tempo, as important in any matchup as can be in sports. For Miami, tempo is as critical as for any team, and perhaps more important. For Indiana, forcing tempo allows its taller team to wrest control of long stretches of games.
Indiana's half court game is superior to Miami's in several ways. It is taller. It seems better executed. And perhaps most importantly, it is younger.
Getting to the half court game is one of Indiana's requirements. Watch game 5 and you will find a largely lethargic and perhaps exhausted Indiana team, unwilling to man up when required. Whether this was due to a "give up" factor in this game or something else is questionable. But to this writer, the series took five games to get Miami tired. After all, they had a week's rest waiting for Indiana to finish their series against the Knicks.
As the teams tire in each game and the series, the quicker Miami team can avoid the deadly duo of Roy Hibbert and David West. Both men put more meat in the paint than any Miami Heat player. And both are better defensively than any player on the Heat's roster apart from LeBron James and perhaps Chris "Birdman" Anderson. Dwyane Wade, hampered by a leg injury, is not the player he can be. And we have to start considering whether Chris Bosh has simply made too much money and has too many other interests beyond basketball, often seeming distracted or misplaced on the court.
Before the series began, Team Rankings, LLC had the Miami Heat overwhelming 82.2% likely favorites against the Indiana Pacers. However, there are some things about the NBA that clearly suggest otherwise including the following from Team Rankings own analysis.
Since the 2003-2004 season, there have been 34 games where the 1 seed played against the 3 seed. In those games:
- The 1 seed has a straight up record of 19-15-0 (The 3 seed is 15-19-0 straight up)
- The 1 seed has a record against the spread of 15-19-0 (The 3 seed is 19-15-0 ATS)
- The game went over the total 15 times, under 19 times, and pushed 0 times
The straight up record in the NBA #1 against #3 seeds is practically even.
And the end of this series will show the younger team more capable of long stretches against older Miami. Some players never seem to age. But for Wade (31) and Bosh (29), years belie their tired bodies and minds. And the defensive capabilities of those ever-present Pacers who can virtually shut them down.
Thus, unlike the percentages and much more like the overall record, we will see another tired Miami team in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. And, unless we have a marked change in scoring no matter how much a superman James happens to be, the end will be Indiana.
In fact, Indiana should win its first NBA championship this year. Thanks to a well-rounded team with a team leader with hands better than any center in recent memory and certainly on a par with the all-time great NBA centers.
Think Bill Russell, Bill Walton, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Roy Hibbert is that good.