When the Triad formed for the Miami Heat in 2010, there was an immediate basketball reaction. Beyond the talk of teaming up and heart and guts and whatever, the question was whether they would be able to fight off a team that beat them up inside.
For three years, the answer has been yes. Dallas didn't beat them with size, they beat them with execution. And after the Heat found their small ball success in 2012, they've managed to counter any opponent that looks to bruise them on the interior by simply enveloping drives, forcing turnovers, and executing offensively at such a high level. One of the breaks they've gotten is they've managed to avoid dominant centers. Dwight Howard's Magic fell apart just as the Heat rose to power, and there is no other dominant center force in the East.
But more and more, we're seeing the effect that Roy Hibbert has against Miami, and why despite Paul George's brilliant, Roy Hibbert's ability at both ends is Indiana's best chance of unseating Miami from the Eastern Throne.
After Miami put up 30 in the first quarter, the Pacers held Miami to just 81.3 points per 100 possessions in the second half, giving up just 37 points total in the final two frames. Meanwhile, Hibbert exploded as the Pacers constantly forced the Heat's scheme to attack the ball-handler in the pick and roll, resulting in one mismatch after another. The Pacers don't post Hibbert and let him go after the strongest opposing low-post defender. They find him mismatches and watch him use his dexterity and agility to score through that defense.
Bosh fronts Hibbert, but the Pacers have figured out how to pass over. Wade comes to help on the baseline but as soon as Hibbert gets the ball, he's turning to the hook shot. Battier is just a fraction late and that's all Hibbert needs because once the ball is up in his arm, no one's blocking it.
Again, you notice it's not just the post-up, it's the slip of the pick, and when the Heat go to trap the ball-handler trying to create those fast-break opportunities, now smaller defenders are trying to stop a guy with excellent touch around the rim.
But like I mentioned, defense is where the Pacers really won the game Tuesday night vs. Miami.
Usually when a guard gets a center isolated off a pick and roll, it's easy pickings for the guard offensively. But watch how Hibbert contains Mario Chalmers, preventing the pull up, messing up his drive and eventually leading to Chalmers losing his handle.
Sometimes it was just simply Hibbert's ability to protect the rim, like here where LeBron James comes around the pick and roll, picks up a head of steam, and Hibbert is able to contest straight up while avoiding the foul.
This time, when James makes his move to get the edge on Paul George, Hibbert times the weakside help perfectly. It's a no-call based on simultaneous contact (and a good no-call at that), and James misses the layup.
Even on this play, in which the Heat score off a ridiculously good shot by LeBron James, there's constant rotations, Hibbert hedging and attacking. The Heat counter with good ball movement, the Pacers counter with good contest of the shot.
The Pacers and Heat gave us a game worthy of a meeting of the best teams in the East. You can't make statements in December, not really. Not loud ones, at least. But Indiana showed that they can survive a furious opening shot from the Heat, respond, and get back to the terrific defense they're known for. They came out with a big win against the rivals. Now they just need to win three more times in the regular season and four more times in the playoffs.
It will not be easy, but then, that's kind of how they like it.