Jim O’Brien urged that they caught Miami on an off night, saying it could be fool’s gold. While the possibility exists, O’Brien will always speak cautiously. O'Brien sips his glass half empty to not allow his team to gain complacency, it was more than fool’s gold: it was a stout defensive effort by the Pacers. Words have been expressed more often to give credence to the team’s defensive efforts, but tonight featured a culmination that resulted in not only a solid road victory, but a definitive win, led by a trio of much maligned Pacer members.
Wait, definitive? Well, in a sense. Beating the Miami Heat isn’t quite the headliner it was a couple of weeks ago, but for Indiana, it had to hold a special significance, given the history of matchups between not only the Heat, but for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Even without the addition of the two most prolific scorers against the Pacers in Jim O’Brien’s tenure, the Pacers blanked on four games last season against the Heat, only one that was even close.
As the Heat jumped out to a first quarter lead, the Pacers left a lot of empty possessions that the Miami used to build a workable advantage. Somehow, the Pacers managed to keep it within striking distance thanks to a pair of three pointers from Mike Dunleavy and T.J. Ford that put the Pacers within three after the first quarter, despite quick foul trouble by Roy Hibbert.
Ford and Brandon Rush came to life in the second quarter. Not only was Ford on his offensive game tonight, but Rush had his best game of the young season, stifling Miami defensively, while showing up to work on the offensive end, making great passes and head’s up plays off the pick and roll. Solomon Jones even got himself involved, hustling and rebounding, much to the surprise of, well…everybody.
After Danny Granger found Tyler Hansbrough for an uncontested slam dunk, the Pacers glanced at the scoreboard and found themselves up 17 points. James and Bosh managed to close the gap to 13 at the half, and despite a positive first half, the second half loomed. Would the Pacers be able to keep the game at arm’s length for another 24 minutes?
The third quarter began with a Pacers foul and continued much that way for the entire duration. The Heat managed to slowly chip away at the lead, finding themselves down seven points halfway through the quarter. After James would cut the lead to nine following a Brandon Rush jumper, it was Rush and Solo again who would push the lead back to 14.
In the fourth quarter, the Heat would make one last push, getting it back to seven points, but Rush came up big again, getting the lead back to double digits, and leading the way as the Pacers held the Heat to a season low 77 points. The key stretch in this game came after Chris Bosh cut the lead to 13 with 6:09 remaining. The Pacers would score the next basket, but for three and a half minutes. The defensive effort of the Pacers guided the blue and gold through a tough offensive stretch when baskets were not falling, pestering the Heat, and not allowing them to make a push while Indiana struggled.
The Miami Heat were able to get to the line all night, finishing with a +25 in free throw attempts, but Indiana outscored the Heat by 20 in the paint. The team did a great job of working inside, and may have ended up at the line more often themselves had anyone on the Heat bothered to even play interior defense.
After the jump, the up and ups of a thrilling road victory!
- Brandon Rush was the best player on the floor tonight. Rush simply made the offensive plays he needed to make. The aggressiveness on his part to not only hit his shots, but to work inside for easy layups (certainly no gimme for Rush in his career) led him to a season high 20 points on 15 attempts. He also added in 7 points and 4 assists, and was perhaps the leader defensively tonight, taking everything from James and Wade. Jim O’Brien called it his best game ever, and it’s hard to really argue with the results.
- Solomon Jones tied his career high with 10 rebounds, dually notable as he came into the game with only 9 rebounds on the entire year. Games like this won’t come along often for Solo, but he was a great catalyst in Roy’s absence tonight. He fought for loose balls, and held onto loose balls. With Jeff Foster in street clothes, Solo put on a nice Foster-esque performance.
- T.J. Ford also had a tremendous night. All thirteen of his points came in six minutes between the end of the first quarter and the first half of the second quarter, but he was invaluable in pushing the lead to a point where the Heat would not be able to overcome. He also assisted on two of the game’s biggest three pointers, and involved himself on the floor tonight.
- Danny Granger had a slow night. His shot again struggled to fall, but he stepped up elsewhere. He posted his first double-double of the season, and like with the rest of the team, showed a delightful resiliency on the defensive end. And in case the game was ever in doubt as time wound down, it was Danny Granger who sunk a couple of daggers into the Miami Heat, scoring Indiana’s final eight points to put the night on ice. In fact, Granger’s first dagger was met with resistance by a follow up James free throw, but Granger went right back down and hit another triple to make it a sure thing.
- Some negative news amidst a great victory had Darren Collison seeming to tweak his ankle injury. More will surely come from that, hopefully all good, but Roy Hibbert was limited as well with foul trouble. That makes two straight games Roy has been seeing extensive bench time due to personal fouls. It would be nice if that were an anomaly, and not the start of opposing offenses looking to get the big fella out of games quickly and often.
- In a game where the two leading scorers for Indiana had just 21 points until Granger’s final eight, the Pacers controlled this game. I had thought in order to even remain competitive, Granger and Hibbert would need productive nights. But Indiana’s bench made up all of the difference, outscoring Miami’s bench to the tune of 40-4.
- The Pacers were only 8-23 from deep and only shot 41%, but much like the Orlando game, the Pacers managed to stay not only competitive, but pull out a win while not lighting it up offensively. As the young team seems to be learning, offense comes and goes, but defense is constant.
- While James and Bosh both reached 20 points, Dwyane Wade had the toughest night of anyone on the floor, finishing with just three points in 38 minutes on 1-13 shooting. Frustration boiled over for Wade in this one, helping to lead the Pacers to a nice win.
While this win is indeed a nice one, there’s little time to enjoy it. The Pacers are back in action in less than 24 hours, as they host the Cleveland Cavaliers. So much of this season seems to be etched in measuring stick games, but for the Pacers, who beat the Cavaliers by 14 in Cleveland, this will be a great chance to follow up a solid win with another. Indiana has done well in responding to losses, but haven’t had the same luck in giving encore performances