When the Miami Heat clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals, it wasn’t expected that they’d see a difficult game the rest of the playoffs. Sure they might run into some problems in the Finals but it was almost a foregone conclusion that Miami was headed back to the Finals for the third straight year. Then everyone took a deep breath and realized the Indiana Pacers are a damn fine basketball team and that’s exactly the style of play we saw on Wednesday night in South Beach.
Indiana played the Heat hard, fast and close the entire game going as far as leading the Heat at halftime. But the Heat aren’t push overs and while we’ve seen them lose in the postseason this year, came roaring back in the second half and those watching actually got to see a basketball game involving the Heat rather than a bloodbath.
Coming into the game, the Pacers knew they could beat up the Heat’s small ball style of play but they needed to stop LeBron James. That was Paul George’s task and while it still needs to be worked on, George showed he was up to the duty laid out before him.
The game will be remembered though for the way Indiana played the Heat close as a team the entire game, never letting up once. The Heat haven’t been punched in the mouth as consistently as the Pacers punched them on Wednesday. Not even in Miami’s loss to the Bulls did things feel so uneasy for the Heat and that could be something that pushes this game to a full seven games.
Miami was clearly rattled down the stretch, and while it will be defended by Heat cronies the way the Game 1 loss to the Bulls was (expect to hear the ‘rust’ argument), Miami wasn’t as dominant as they usually are and that has everything to do with how well the Pacers played in Game 1. Miami couldn’t close out Indiana and the game was tied on an epic and awkwardly shot three pointer by Paul George to send things into overtime.
When the Heat thought they were pulling away in the final seconds of overtime, a ball that looked like it was going to be a turnover ended up giving the Pacers a three point foul which tied the game. Paul George somehow got fouled by Dwyane Wade which gave him a chance for three points at the free throw line, which he made with ease.
But LeBron James was given a wide open lane at simply walk to the basket and win the game with perhaps the easiest layup of his career.
Once in overtime the Pacers continued to hustle and beat up the Heat in a big bad way. The Pacers never took their foot off the gas and that’s exactly how you play the Heat. Things could fall apart on the Pacers the way it did to Chicago last round, but this is a more complete and talented team than Chicago was which is bad news for Miami.
Indiana couldn’t pull out the win but they have very little to hang their heads about after Game 1. Mental mistakes killed the Pacers down the stretch including an out of bounds pass that Paul George tossed to give the Heat the ball back with under 0:20 left in the game and trailing by two points. George may have mistaken a Pacers bench player for a player on the floor, and he admitted almost immediately that the mistake was on him.
So the loss by the Pacers was not the typical Heat win — the Pacers lost the game and didn’t get beat by the Heat the way teams have been so far. Miami has costed to far in the postseason but anyone sleeping on Indiana are wide awake with fear and doubt after Game 1 in Miami.