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The Miami Heat will look to take a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals Tuesday when they face the Indiana Pacers on the road in Game 4. Having regained home court advantage with a blowout victory on Sunday night, the Heat can push the Pacers to the brink of elimination with a victory.
Miami made a major adjustment in Game 3, sending four-time MVP LeBron James into the post on the regular to challenge Indiana's defense. It paid off – big.
"It was something we wanted to get just to help settle us and get into a more aggressive attack," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We wanted to be a little more aggressive, a little more committed to getting into the paint and seeing what would happen. LeBron was very committed and focused not to settle."
While James was a major catalyst for the Heat offensively on Sunday, the re-emergence of forward Udonis Haslem was perhaps the linchpin that opened up Miami's offense.
"I think he was really the guy that pushed them, the catalyst for them," Pacers center Roy Hibbert said after Game 3. "Just him hitting those shots really made us have to think on defense. Who do we guard? Do we guard the paint, or do we have to go out to the shooters out in the corner."
Haslem shot 8 of 9, scoring 17 points in his best performance of the season. He was not the only role player who shined in Game 3. Mario Chalmers scored 14 points, Chris "Birdman" Andersen continued to hit every shot he took, and Ray Allen and Shane Battier showed signs of life after struggling mightily from the 3-point line in Games 1 and 2.
Now the Pacers must adjust. Miami's defense suffocated Indiana in the second half of Game 3, as the Pacers shot just 30 percent after halftime.
Indiana has a few things to build on, though. The Pacers shot a hot 8 of 14 from 3-point range on Sunday, and took 44 trips to the free-throw line while drawing 30 Heat fouls (they only made 30 of those free throws, however).
The Pacers frustrated the Heat in Games 1 and 2 using spacing and quick passes on offense to take advantage of the Heat's defensive rotations, finding open shots by the third or fourth touch. Defensively, the Pacers will probably send more help when James is in the post, as the smaller Paul George could not slow him down on his own in Game 3.
But if Miami's role players hit their shots when a double-teamed James passes to an open teammate in Game 4, there may be little for Indiana to do except try to keep pace, something which they could not do even in the first half of Game 3, when the Pacers shot 50 percent from the field but still trailed by 14.
"If you're not perfect guarding them, they'll do what they did to us tonight," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "Sometimes when you are perfect with your coverages, they still find a way to make baskets."
Game 4 tips off at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, with coverage on TNT.
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