Lance Stephenson-(Frank McGrath-Pacers.com)
ISR Senior Writer
INDIANAPOLIS- You can’t always get what you want. But if you limp into the playoffs as the No.1 seed, stumble through the first round merely escaping an upset elimination and hold off a surging, talented, young team in the second round, you might just find yourself with everything you wanted in the palm of your hands.
Sunday’s game was what the Pacers predicated their entire season around. It was the sole purpose of their existence for the last 11 months—lock-up the No.1 seed and collide with Miami in the conference finals. The Indiana Pacers didn’t have a choice. There was no way they could lose game one of the Eastern Conference Finals on their home court.
Easier said than done when your opponent is the two-time defending champion, but the Pacers answered the call with a 107-96 victory to take a 1-0 lead in the series. With an oversized load of speculation and doubt from the majority of people on the outside, the Pacers dug deep inside and played game one like it was game seven, returning once again to their all but forgotten identity.
Indiana is 7-2 in their last nine games and Sunday’s game one victory was the first game one the Pacers have won this postseason. It’s not going to get easier from here, though. Maintaining consistency is an understatement.
“It’s a good start to the series, but it’s just a good start. That’s all it is,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said. “We’re going to come back, (we) expect a great fight in game two and we’ve got to win game two. The thing is the team that’s coming back for game two is the two-time defending champs so we understand that they’re going to bring an enormous amount of fight in game two.”
The Pacers good start was one of their best performances this postseason. Their 107 points was the most allowed by Miami and 94 of them came from the Pacers’ starters. Indiana jumped out to an early lead when George Hill and Paul George got going from behind the arc. The pair knocked down five threes in the first quarter en route to a 30-24 Pacers lead going into the second.
The Pacers led by 10 at halftime, in fact, Indiana never trailed the Heat the entire game and led by as many as 19 points in the third quarter. Miami threatened twice, shrinking the lead down to 11, but every time the Heat fought back with a small run, the Pacers answered with one of their own.
A well-balanced, efficient offense, tough defense and a 38-29 advantage on rebounding were all in the DNA of Sunday’s win. The next task will be finding what they did wrong on film and correcting it while maintaining their coach’s humbled outlook on how far this team still has to go.
“We know we’re playing against the two-time champions and they’re going to come out and make adjustments, it’s not going to be anywhere close to game one but we expect that so everything we did tonight has got to be that much more in game two,” George said. “We’ve been complacent many of times and we just can’t get complacent. That will be the test. We’ve got to stay humbled off this win and come in with the same mindset that we’ve got to get another one. This is a game we needed. We had a history of dropping game ones during this playoff run and that would have been a huge setback.”
George finished with 24 points, seven assists and four rebounds while Hill added 15 points. Roy Hibbert continued his rebirth scoring 19 points and grabbing nine rebounds and David West finished with 19 and seven. Lance Stephenson was able to maintain his focus on the task at hand rather than the individual match up on the floor with Dwayne Wade. Stephenson had 17 points, eight assists and four rebounds.
Much of that success on offense was their ability to get back into their offensive attack via pick and roll. The screening player was fast off of the pick allowing the player controlling the ball to make the pass before Miami’s help could recover allowing a numbers, and sometimes, size mismatch on the scoring attempt. Miami had trouble defending all around, but especially in the paint. The Heat outscored the Pacers in the paint, but they counteracted their success down low on offense by sending Indiana to the foul line 37 times—mostly from fouls in the lane.
“I don’t think we played a solid game all the way through. We made a lot of mistakes and (Indiana) took advantage of it. They got some threes early on, our pick and roll coverage had a lot of break downs throughout the game. We need to evaluate our mistakes and the things we did well in game one so we’ll make adjustments and we’ll be a better team in game two,” James said of Miami’s performance in game one.
Chris Bosh shot 4-12 from the field and 0-5 from three point territory finishing with just nine points. The Heat are going to have better nights from their bench and supporting cast, as well. Ray Allen scored 12 and Chris Anderson had 14 but that was the only production off of their bench. The other two starters, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers, combined for nine points.
This wasn’t the same Heat team that had only lost one playoff game this postseason. By now, both of these teams know what to expect from one another. Tonight, however, Indiana’s game plan blended perfectly with Miami’s struggles.
“We know these guys and they know us. I thought they played their game, but I just thought we handled their pressure. I thought we handled what they were, what they were trying to do and everything they had today,” West said.
Corey Elliot is a Senior Writer at the Indy Sports Report and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association. He is recognized as an accredited member of the media by the Pacers and has full media access. Follow us on twitter @CoreyElliot and @IndySportsRep