Another close game, but another close loss for the Indiana Pacers. After falling down by as many as 20 points in Game 3 against the Miami Heat, the Pacers just couldn't get over the hump, cutting the deficit down to two on multiple occasions before ultimately losing, 124-115 on Saturday. The Pacers got everything they could have asked for out of their best players. The foursome of T.J. Warren, Malcolm Brogdon, Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner combined for 82 points, with none finishing with fewer than 15, but beyond those four and the Holiday brothers, the Pacers got only four more total points. Miami's superior depth won the day.
Jimmy Butler's 27 points led the way for Miami, but Tyler Herro's 20 off the bench helped sustain Miami as Indiana pushed for the comeback. Now the Heat lead this series 3-0, and should be able to close the door on Monday in Game 4 to set up a second-round duel with the Milwaukee Bucks. The Pacers, meanwhile, will almost certainly fall in the first round for the fourth season in a row. Here are the most important takeaways from Miami's victory.
The Heat trust their veterans
Miami's choice in closers was telling. Duncan Robinson, maybe their third-best player all season, was on the bench in the final minutes. Tyler Herro, who scored 20 points in the game, got some fourth-quarter run, but was out for the last two minutes. Meanwhile, Andre Iguodala, Goran Dragic and Jae Crowder were all on the floor when it counted. It was an interesting look into Miami's priorities in the biggest moments of an important game.
Defense was clearly the directive, and the Heat struggled to get clean looks on several possessions due to that lack of shooting. There's also an element of trust involved. The Heat chose the veterans who have played in big playoff games over the young players that have been better all season. Eric Spoelstra is the sort of coach who never marries a particular lineup, so there will be mixing and matching as the playoffs progress, but he sent a message with his choices in this one.
Miami's ability to get free points will be essential
The Heat finished fourth in free-throw attempts per game during the regular season, but their lineup choices during the playoffs have made it significantly easier to get to the line. They have 105 free-throw attempts through three games, including 52 in this one, because they're devoting less resources to stand-still shooters like Meyers Leonard and more to attackers like Goran Dragic. The Heat usually have multiple ball-handlers on the floor at once, and when they're all attacking the basket, it leads to enormous free-throw gaps like the one today.
This is just a talent mismatch
Everything that the Pacers would have needed, on paper, to get a win in this series happened on Saturday. The 3-point disparity was virtually nonexistent, their best players all played good games, and while Jimmy Butler took 20 free-throws, he was only 5-of-16 from the field. In spite of all that, they still lost. They aren't necessarily at fault for that. They don't have Domantas Sabonis right now, and Victor Oladipo is clearly not at 100 percent. The talent gap between these two teams is just too big right now for Indiana to seriously compete with Miami. That these games haven't been blowouts is a testament to Indiana's strong infrastructure, but these close games have proven just how important it is to have a fully-equipped roster.