Last night's Heat-Pacers game marked the first time the two teams had met since last season's Eastern Conference Finals, a thrilling seven-game series that the Pacers nearly stole by driving a mack truck with the number 55 on it through the Heat's undersized front court. If the game proved anything, it's that the Heat still don't have an answer for the Pacers' giant.
The game started with the Heat jumping out to a lead and overwhelming Indiana with their energy, especially on the defensive end. The Heat have spent a lot of time playing defense like a team that's grown tired of running the court for two straight hours at an open gym, but it's assumed that they have an extra gear that they can kick themselves into whenever needed. During last night's first quarter, we got a glimpse of what that extra gear looks like.
The Heat flexed their muscle by completely smothering Paul George, the guy who is as close to jumping into the LeBron James and Kevin Durant category of greatness as anyone in the league. George was held to 0-of-4 shooting in 17 first half minutes, and was forced into five first-half turnovers by the Heat's hounding defense. George was flustered, and with their star shrinking in his biggest game of the regular season, the Pacers looked like they were in trouble.
And then the second half started, and Roy Hibbert went to work. Hibbert scored 15 of his 24 points in the second half, proving that the Heat still have no answer for him. It was actually kind of sad watching the members of Miami's rail-thin and undersized front court take turns rotating onto Hibbert, trying desperately to keep him away from the rim. But Hibbert's too damn big and too damn strong to be stopped by anyone on Miami's roster. Just look at how easy this shit was for him:
This is a big problem for Miami, doubly so because when Hibbert is on a roll they have to abandon their small-ball lineup. Shane Battier has to be taken off the floor in favor of Chris Andersen—who is at least slightly more of a bothersome presence for Hibbert to deal with—and that kills Miami's spacing on the offensive end. The Heat played a crunch time lineup that included both Bosh and Andersen in the front court, meaning that LeBron James had one less spot-up shooter to whip passes to while doing his thing on the offensive end.
And while Hibbert was busy punching holes in the Heat's interior defense, Paul George was able to float out of the breach and spot up on the perimeter, where he found space and dropped in three shots from behind the arc during the second half.
Heat-Pacers games are so fun to watch because they feature such a great strength-on-strength match up: the Heat's otherworldly offense against the Pacers' brutish defense. It's an uncommonly even matchup, but favor can be swung in either direction by a variety of factors, none bigger than Roy Hibbert. He's the anchor of the Pacers' defense, but he's also the odd mismatch that can completely alter the game on the offensive end. The Heat can overwhelm the Pacers with quick bursts of defensive effort, but it's hard to sustain that effort over a full four quarters. Hibbert, on the other hand, can knock all of the Heat's offensive and defensive philosophies off kilter simply by being bigger than everyone else on the floor.
Paul George may very well be a Tracy McGrady in the making, but he's not the guy who will be giving the Heat nightmares. It's Roy Hibbert, all 7-foot-2 and 260 lbs. of him, that should have LeBron James waking up in a cold sweat, praying that Greg Oden can somehow pull himself out of his tomb in time for the playoffs.