If the Indiana Pacers thought they might get anything less than the very best of LeBron James, they got their wake up call on Wednesday night.
The league’s Most Valuable Player once again displayed his dominance in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals, scoring his ninth career playoff triple-double in a thrilling 103-102 victory that included the game winning layup. While the story revolves around James and what he was able to do to ensure the Heat got off on the right foot in the series, Indiana has to feel like they’ve failed to make the most of the best opportunity they were going to get to make a statement in this series.
Both teams came flying out of the gate, running the floor and turning the ball over with reckless abandon. The Heat got some big points from James to get them going and the Pacers were able to go inside and get Roy Hibbert going. With Indiana’s offense being more based on a flow to the game than Miami, who can isolate a star at any given moment to go after a basket, the first quarter seemed to favor Indiana in way despite the fact they finished the period down a point.
Being able to deal with Miami’s speed and ability to run the floor instantly gave the Pacers confidence and saw them execute their game plan for the most part from then on, but there in lies the problem. The Pacers did everything right in that first half, from rebounding to getting multiple players into rhythm offensively and forcing Miami to commit as many turnovers as they did. The Pacers eliminated Miami’s transition game and held their trio of stars to just 17 points, but it isn’t enough against the Heat.
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Starting the second half, Miami made adjustments and went on one 12-2 run that changed the game. Chris Andersen would come in late in the third and early fourth quarter and prove huge in the second half, scoring 10 of his 16 points and collecting three blocks and three rebounds along the way.
Of course, the Pacers were ultimately successful in fighting back, capping a solid second half with Paul George’s game tying three pointer with 0.7 seconds left. In all, the first four quarters showed us that Indiana can indeed fight with Miami and make this series tough for the Heat, but the extra period showed us why James and Co. will win the series.
In overtime, the Pacers hung in and were practically handed the game when the referee blew for a foul against Dwyane Wade that knocked the star out of the game and sent George to the line for three shots that would put Indiana up by one with just 2.2 seconds left. Upon replay, it didn’t appear that Wade did much to justify the call as contact was minimal to say the least, yet there it was, the Pacers had the lead with a chance to win the game.
Frank Vogel’s decision to leave Roy Hibbert off the court for the final play is being questioned by many, especially considering James scored at the rim, something Hibbert could have prevented. But the fact is that Indiana’s defense didn’t handle the moment very well. After a solid game in which they had pretty much executed their defense to perfection, the Pacers let James slip loose and blow right by them in the crucial moment of the game that would cancel all their game one efforts, but the reason the Pacers lost goes deeper than that one play.
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In the second half, Miami got a combined 49 points from James, Bosh and Wade and outrebounded the Pacers 26-24. For the game, Miami nearly matched Indiana’s offensive rebounding (17-16) and actually outscored them in the paint 60-48. These are areas the Pacers don’t lose when they win games.
At the end of the day, Indiana got 72 points from George, David West and Hibbert, they played great defense throughout most of the game and got the kind of game they wanted, a scrappy, sloppy fight that tested both team’s resolve in terms of heart. But in all ways, the King’s determination once again overpowered another team.
It won’t get any easier for Indiana. This was a golden opportunity to steal home court advantage and put themselves in the driver’s seat the way they did against New York. Miami won’t be surprised by anything in game two and will probably do what they do best; adjust. They won’t need James to go 30-10-10 again, and they probably won’t allow all three Pacer stars to have as much offensive influence on the game as they did in this one. From here on out, Indiana will have to battle just to maintain. Surely, they’ll be successful at least once on their home court, but that game one loss told us all we really need to know about the difference between these two teams.