INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Pacers have a way of making games ugly.
With a starting lineup that seems to have a neverending wingspan with each position and defensive principles that keep you out of your comfort zones, the Pacers can force you into taking low quality shots. They typically run you off the 3-point line, dare you to come into the lane where their lurking giant waits, and make you take contested midrange jumpers. They beat you up, they push you around, and they aren't afraid to take away the flow of a game.
In Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Pacers did exactly that to the Miami Heat. Aside from good 3-point shooting by the Heat (10 of 18 from the field but just 3 of 9 in the second half) during Game 6, they couldn't get anything else to fall. They'd get into the lane and Roy Hibbert would be waiting at the rim. Paul George, Lance Stephenson, and David West dug down into the paint to take away any chance of making a clean play inside. And all of it came to a head in the third quarter when they dominated Miami with a 29-15 quarter.
"All across the board, they just flat out beat us," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the 91-77 loss. "In every facet of the game, they outclassed us that quarter.
Basically everything we have to do to win this series, we gave up."
It was the opposite of what the teams went through in Game 5 when the Heat seemingly took control of the series with a monster third quarter in which they outscored the Pacers 30-13. In that quarter, LeBron James took over and controlled the tempo of the game by getting whatever he wanted. At Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Game 6, the Pacers didn't allow him to do that.
"I felt like we were outplaying them, but we were just leaving a lot of plays out there," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said after the game. "We just had to complete those plays and continue the things that were working for us."
The things that were working for the Pacers were protecting the paint and destroying the Heat on the boards. It's the recipe they've had throughout the majority of the series. Control the paint and it will give the Pacers a good chance to compete with the best team in the NBA. If it's a competitive game, one big run or one big quarter can capture a game for you. And those big quarters for the Pacers usually start with defense.
"We believe in our defensive plan," Vogel said. "We have to limit our turnovers and we have to finish at the rim. And we do those things and we can take control of the game.
We knew in Game 5 they came out and seized control of the game in the third quarter. And I felt like we could do the same."
Indiana allowed just 22 points in the paint in Game 6. The Heat hit 31.3 percent of their shots in the restricted area and constantly got taken out of position by Hibbert, West, and George inside. As they rooted the Heat players out of position to rebound the ball, the trio of Stephenson, West, and Hibbert combined to grab 37 rebounds in a game the Heat grabbed just 33 as a team.
And that's how you win ugly games. You take away shots at the rim, control the paint, and obliterate your opponents on the boards. You can only do that with all five guys on the floor buying in and having each other's backs.
"We played hard," Stephenson said after a 12-rebound performance. "We played as a unit. We played aggressive. We were ready for this game. We played together and we played smart. When we play like this the sky is the limit."
Before the game, Vogel told his team not to worry about the fact that they were playing an elimination game. He said to think of it as being two wins away from the NBA Finals. By winning an ugly game Saturday night, they're now just one win away from playing for the title.