Tonight’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 3 will be a crucial turning point in the outcome of the series. For Indiana, a bad night all around from Paul George, David West, and the entire bench cost the Pacers the late lead and ultimately the game, as well as home court advantage at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. For the Pacers to steal a game in South Beach and take home court advantage back to The Bank, the bench will need to contribute more than in the game previous. Here are some keys to the success of the bench in tonight’s game.
First, Paul George needs to play, and all signs say that he should start without restriction following NBA concussion protocol. But wait Jason, Paul George doesn’t play with the bench, what does that have to do with anything? If Paul George is good to go, Evan Turner will not be asked to start the game. This means he will be a go off the bench, and the second five lineup will remain unaltered. The only thing harder than replacing Paul’s 21 points and seven rebounds per game is struggling to replace his 41 minutes of production and then failing to replace Turner’s normal production off the bench when he starts in Paul’s place.
Second, the bench big men must stay out of foul trouble. Tonight’s officials have been announced, and I feel I speak on behalf of every Pacers fan when saying that, to put it mildly, I cringed at the assignments, specifically Tony Brothers. Yes, that Tony Brothers, the one that called the ludicrous technical foul on Lance Stephenson for hustling for a rebound in game 7 against Atlanta. It is of the utmost importance to play carefully when you have an official with a quick trigger on the whistle.
For Ian Mahinmi and Luis Scola, logging solid minutes to give Roy Hibbert and David West rest is the most important thing they bring to the Indiana Pacers. In this series, Roy and David are, in my opinion, the most and the third most important players Indiana has, respectively. Because of this, in the likely scenario that at least one is in foul trouble by the end of the first half, Luis and Ian need to be prepared to step up and provide production when the series advantage hangs in the balance.
Over the course of any playoff series, there is bound to be a turning point that, in retrospect, was the decisive moment. In the Eastern Conference Finals this year, game 3 could very well be that turning point. A successful night from the bench will certainly make the road to a game 3 win and another series lead with home court advantage much easier.