Try as they might, the Pacers couldn't keep LeBron James and the Heat down.
Some old habits die hard.
The Indiana Pacers played a magnificent three quarters of basketball, before failing to counter fourth quarter adjustments and letting a lead and eventually the game slip away, as LeBron James closed out the 117-112 win for the Miami Heat.
The Pacers were having their way with the Heat inside the paint early and often, attacking the rim whether it be off pick n' rolls, drive and dish or in transition. Scoring was not a problem as the Pacers continued to try to fend off LeBron who made scoring seem easy for the Heat.
Josh McRoberts and Tyler Hansbrough made life miserable for Chris Bosh, combining for 30 points. Roy Hibbert was equally strong around the bucket, dropping in 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Hibbert even took the ball out in the open court in transition finishing the play with a dunk that woke up my slumbering kids. Well, I guess my reaction woke the kids up, but it was all Hibbert's fault.
Danny Granger joined the rush to the rim as well, making his first three shots on strong plays at the bucket.
LeBron scored 26 of his 41 points in the first half, single-handedly keeping the Heat around and then when the Pacers' sloppy play kicked in late in the second quarter, James fueled an 11-0 run that cut the Pacers' 14-point lead to three in a blink.
In the third quarter, the Pacers were able to build that lead back up to 13 in much the same fashion -- matching the Heat's aggression and staying on the attack. The score after three quarters was 97-90. Crazy, balanced offensive effort from the Pacers.
All of that offense forced Miami into a zone late in the third quarter which was the start of the Pacers downfall. It slowed them down and made their efforts to attack in the paint more challenging. Perimeter shots were more enticing, but they weren't falling.
Then when the Heat went back to man-to-man, they had LeBron guarding point guard Darren Collison. Lebron's monstrous presence mucked up Collison's pick n' roll options and as momentum jumped on Miami's side the Pacers repeatedly tried to stem the tide with perimeter jumpers.
Collison missed a couple and then Granger missed a few. Finally, McRoberts air mailed a corner three which simply highlighted the futile and familiar fourth quarter effort with the Pacers settling to live and die by the perimeter shot.
Despite the 15-point fourth quarter and abandoning their earlier efforts to attack the interior, the Pacers still had a chance to tie the game at the end of regulation. With nine seconds left and no timeouts, Dahntay Jones was left holding the ball too long before trying to inbound it to Granger. After passing on Darren Collison in the corner, Dahntay mucked up an otherwise solid effort by turning the ball over, putting an anti-climactic end to an exciting game.
After the jump, more thoughts anad observations.
- Frank Vogel certainly learned some tough coaching lessons on the fly tonight. The zone seemed to catch the Pacers off guard and they were unable to settle down and find the right combination to some good looks down the stretch. There were some good plays. With 14 seconds left and down three, the Pacers duped the Heat and freed Josh McRoberts for an alley oop on the side out of bounds play. The layup took less than a second and cut the lead to one.
- For much of the game, the Pacers offense was once again firing on all cyliders and balanced across the board. It wasn't until Tyler Hansbrough scored the 54th point of the game in the second quarter giving him 11 points that any Pacer was in double-figures.
- The Pacers only had 15 turnovers but they seemed to come in bunches and fuel momentum-swinging runs by the Heat. Once again, the Pacers won the rebound battle 37-36, although it was more of a stalemate. Miami was able to corral some key caroms down the stretch including Chris Bosh grabbing an offensive rebound with 30 seconds left that LeBron would later cash in to put Miami back up by three. That was a killer.
- LeBron was a killer to, finishing with 41 points. The guy is simply amazing at times. It seemed like half of his points were on thunderous dunks. After one turnover, James sprinted the other way with the dribble. Speedy Darren Collison turned in pursuit a few steps behind but never made up any ground as LBJ cruised in for another dunk.
- Roy Hibbert came out real strong in the first half, slipping to the hoop on pick n' rolls and hitting hooks with either hand in full rhythm. A real solid game as Roy stepped up to do his part to attack Miami's light front court.
- Tyler Hansbrough really frustrated the Heat in the paint, surely driving Chris Bosh nuts. He was able to draw contact to get to the line seven times and made all six of his shots from the field to finish with 18 points.
- Darren Collison finished with 15 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds but struggled shooting the ball in the second half.
- Mike Dunleavy never fully got into the game which wasn't surprising with Dwyane Wade and LeBron creating a horrible matchup on the other side. Dunleavy played more in the second half as Vogel was trying to find something to work, but on took two shots on the night.
- Dahntay Jones scored 11 points and made a strong impact on the game aside from the last play. Brandon Rush was active but didn't play tonight and even when Rush his fully healthy he's going to have trouble getting his minutes back from DJ.
- Paul George had plenty of rookie moments in this one, at times seeming to be in awe of the situation. He also settled down and made plays. Unfortunately, he started out shooting threes and never found the range missing four from behind the arc. He did make some super mid-range shots.
- The incredible play the Pacers had going at times in this game simply left me shaking my head in disbelief. Along with Roy Hibbert's coast-to-coast drive and dunk, Dahntay Jones drew a foul on Dwyane Wade while knocking down a corner 3-ball which ended up being a 4-point play.
The Pacers have to get up off the canvas and prepare to keep fighting on Wednesday night when the Charlotte Bobcats come to Conseco Fieldhouse. Charlotte beat Boston on Monday night and are now tied with the Pacers for the eighth spot in the East. The Pacers can lock up the tie breaker by beating the Bobcats.