Pacers 107 – Heat 96 (Indiana leads series 1-0)
For the Miami Heat, a trip to their fourth straight NBA Finals is not the foregone conclusion that everyone outside of Indiana thought it to be. The Pacers proved that point loud and clear on Sunday with an emphatic blowout win to open the series.
The Pacers were the more aggressive team from the jump, scoring the game’s first seven points and holding the lead for all 48 minutes in their best game of the postseason. Indiana’s starting lineup was on point, with the whole unit reaching double figures in the scoring column. Paul George got better as the game wore on, putting up 24 points on 7-13 shooting to lead the Pacers, while Roy Hibbert (9 rebounds, 5-13 shooting) and David West (7 rebounds) both netted 19 for Indy. West and Lance Stephenson (17 points, 8-12 shooting, 8 assists) created major problems for Miami, as the Heat didn’t seem to have the bodies to contain either.
Miami went small from the start, putting Shane Battier in the starting lineup, and the Pacers took advantage of it on the offensive end, with the awkward matches of Battier on George and LeBron James on West to begin the game. Indiana is usually mediocre scoring the ball on their best days, but they were shooting 60 percent for the better part of the game and hit 51.5 percent on the night. They were aggressive, too, and it paid off; the Pacers got to the rim with ease and earned 37 free throw attempts to just 15 for the Heat. LeBron James, averaging nearly 11 free throws per game in the Playoffs, took just two shots from the line, highlighting the Heat’s lack of urgency.
Bron was solid but not spectacular, save for a first half alley-oop dunk, and posted 25 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. Miami got a big offensive effort from Dwyane Wade (27 points, 12-18 shooting), but Wade made a few head-scratching plays as the Heat attempted to mount a comeback in the second half. Miami was hampered by a rough game from Chris Bosh, who had 9 points on 4-12 shooting, including 0-5 from deep. On the whole, Miami struggled from long range, one area they usually hold a big advantage over the Pacers. The Heat shot 6-23 from deep, while Indy hit 8-19.
The Pacers were able to decimate Miami’s defense using simple pick-and-roll plays over the course of the game. Just about every Miami defender, LeBron included, was guilty of losing track of ball handlers and screeners alike, gifting the Pacers easy buckets galore.
“That’s us at our worst defensively,” Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “We never got into a rhythm where we could defend without fouling.”
It’s hard to imagine the Pacers playing any better offensively as this series wears on. PG admitted after the game that he knows Miami will make adjustments, and that the Pacers will have to get ready for that. But the rising star also pointed out his team’s superb effort, the likes of which we haven’t seen for much of the Playoffs.
“We played with a great energy tonight. That’s been an area we lacked this postseason, being consistent with our energy and urgency to start things off,” George told the media post-game. “I thought we brought that tonight, we brought a toughness, we brought an edge, we were aggressive on both ends of the floor.”
Indiana will need to come back with that same edge in Game 2 if they want to preserve their hard-earned home court advantage, because it’s unlikely that a LeBron James-led team will come out this flat two games in a row. The series resumes on Tuesday.—Brett Weisband