Chris Bosh, who's injured, means a lot to Miami. And the Pacers are constructed and coached to give Miami trouble.
All it would take is one Miami victory in Indianapolis to restore order to the series. But clearly, any suggestion that Chicago's early exit would enable the Heat to skate through the Eastern Conference was misguided.
The Jazz's example is telling. A Utah team with a losing record as of March 2, when the Heat visited EnergySolutions Arena, took a 99-98 victory.
Everyone remembers only the last play, when LeBron James passed up a winning shot attempt and flipped the ball to Udonis Haslem, who missed a 16-footer. The boxscore shows more important information, as it applies to the Pacers-Heat series.
Bosh missed the game for personal reasons. Shane Battier's 18 points complemented the combined 66 points of James and Dwyane Wade, but Bosh's rebounding and defense were missed.
The Jazz had a 50-32 advantage on the boards, including 23 offensive rebounds. That kind of effort is exactly what's making Indiana successful. Pacers center Roy Hibbert grabbed 18 rebounds Thursday, besides scoring 19 points in a further illustration of his improvement under Pacers assistant Jim Boylen, the former University of Utah coach.
From a Jazz standpoint, some of the numbers in that boxscore in March are stunning, evidence that players emerge at various times of the season. Al Jefferson's 20 points were standard stuff, but other numbers were intriguing. Rookie center Enes Kanter posted 11 points and six rebounds in 16 minutes. Forward Josh Howard, who played 40 minutes, led the Jazz with nine rebounds (four offensive).
The surprise of Game 3 in Indianapolis, obviously, was the 19-point margin. That's pretty much explained by Wade's five-point effort, exacerbated by his third-quarter disagreement with coach Erik Spoelstra. But he's not the Heat's only problem.
Indiana is an athletic, aggressive team with an All-Star center. The Pacers are like the Jazz, only better. That's how they're doing what they're doing.
Indiana finished 42-24 in the regular season, earning the No. 3 seed in the East, and then took care of Orlando in five games of first-round series. The Pacers have won three of four road games in the playoffs, including a Game 2 defeat of the Heat.
This is a very good team. Team president Larry Bird was named the NBA's Executive of the Year, while Frank Vogel finished third in the Coach of the Year voting, and their work is being rewarded even more by the Pacers' postseason performance. Indiana has shown poise and toughness in the playoffs, ever since blowing a late lead against Orlando in Game 1.
The additions of George Hill and David West have accelerated the Pacers' growth, and they're positioned to be a force in the East for a long time.
At the moment, they're concerned only after finishing off the Heat, and you have to like their chances. The Jazz showed them how it's done against Miami, and they're following the blueprint nicely.