INDIANAPOLIS – The 2017-18 Indiana Pacers (43-31) have punched their ticket to this season’s NBA Playoffs.
Yes, that same Pacers squad that many felt had no shot at the postseason after dealing Paul George to Oklahoma City this past offseason. Yet here we are, with eight games remaining on their regular season schedule, and Indy has already clinched their spot in the Eastern Conference’s playoff field.
The Blue and Gold did not ease their way into a playoff-clinching victory on Sunday, however, needing overtime to top the Miami Heat (39-35). Darren Collison scored eight points in OT to lead the Pacers, who knocked off the Heat 113-107 in front of a sellout crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Indiana had to overcome a slow start, as Miami dominated in the first quarter. The Heat never trailed, were in front by as many as 14 and led 30-21 after one. The visitors from South Beach drained six three-pointers in the first 12 minutes alone, including four from Tyler Johnson.
Bojan Bogdanovic canned a triple to end the first, though, and that momentum carried into period two. Just over four minutes into the frame, the ballgame was tied. The Blue and Gold actually led by as many as six in the second, but the Heat scored the final seven points of the quarter to go into the half up by one.
Thaddeus Young had it going for the home team in the third quarter. Young poured in 11 of his 22 points in the third, helping the Pacers go into the fourth quarter with a 82-74 advantage.
Miami chipped away at that eight-point deficit quickly, though, getting within three less than two minutes in. The Heat finally went back in front at the 5:12 mark, as a James Johnson triple made it a 91-90 game. Victor Oladipo answered from deep on the other end and from that point, it was on.
Tied at 95 with 23.1 seconds to play, Myles Turner went to the foul line with two shots. He made one of those free throw attempts, leaving the door open for Miami. James Johnson ended up at the line for the Heat with 8.3 ticks remaining, but he also only connected on one of two foul shots.
Oladipo held the ball, looking for another heroic bucket, but he slipped and was only able to get off a heave of a three-pointer. His heroics had to wait for overtime.
The Heat led a few minutes into OT, 100-98, but Collison and Oladipo fueled Indy to victory.
With 2:49 left, Collison drained a corner three. Then with 1:21 to play and a three-point Pacer edge, Oladipo pulled up and swished another big triple. Collison nailed another three-pointer with 55.7 seconds on the clock for good measure, giving Indy a 109-102 lead and the breathing room needed to cruise to a win.
Collison finished with just 12 points on the night, but made all three of his shots in the extra period. Oladipo scored a team-high 23 points on 8-for-21 shooting. The former Indiana University star was not on top of his game again, but made the big plays in crunch time to guide the Pacers.
There won’t be much time for Indiana to celebrate their playoff berth, however, as a four-game trip to the West Coast looms.
First up on that trip is a matchup with the defending champion Golden State Warriors out in Oakland on Tuesday. Injuries to Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson will mean the Pacers will most likely battle a different Warriors team, though. Tip off is slated for 10:30 p.m.
Eastern Conference playoff standings: (* – clinched playoff berth)
3. Cleveland*, 44-29, 10 GB
4. Philadelphia*, 42-30 (.583), 11.5 GB
5. Indiana*, 43-31 (.581), 11.5 GB
6. Washington, 40-32, 13.5 GB
7. Milwaukee, 39-34, 15 GB
8. Miami, 39-35, 15.5 GB