INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 17: Danny Granger #33 of the Indiana Pacers passes between Joel Anthony #50 and Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on May 17, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Pacers defeated the Heat 94-75. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
In what was the most anticipated home game in over ten years, the Indiana Pacers made a statement. The Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd, outfitted in gold swagger, created an environment that had been missing since the 31 banner was raised into the rafters. The end result was a Pacers team stumbling a bit in the first quarter, just to blow the doors off of the Miami Heat for three straight quarters, resulting in a 20-point win that is as satisfying a Pacers win as fans have seen in as many years as they've tuned out.
The Pacers jumped out of the gate early as Danny Granger opened the night with a three pointer to send the crowd into a frenzy, as part of an 11-2 opening run that made the Heat, fresh off of intense scrutiny for their decisions to close Game 2, look as prepared as Dexter Pittman, who made an eye opening and three minute start for Miami. An early theme was the Pacers defense, with Granger keyed in on LeBron James and Paul George turning Dwyane Wade into a passive second-tier player who didn't even want to take shots.
Perhaps the largest concern for the Heat this entire series to date was the lack of success from their role players, and when the Heat began to erase their deficit behind those role players with James playing well, it seemed like the Heat were finally getting what they needed in order to turn the series around. Miami was led by Mario Chalmers, who flew on cruise control all night, but early contributions from Joel Anthony and Mike Miller gave Miami a nine-point lead on 24-6 run to close the quarter as Indiana, characteristically, went ice cold, plaguing themselves with idiotic turnovers and allowing the Heat to make plays on the boards.
Indiana appeared a second late defensively, weren't executing sharply on offense, and simply didn't look entirely with it, a dangerous trio against a team that got 15 of its 26 first quarter points from its much maligned role players. An interesting twist came about as Dahntay Jones dropped in five quick points in the midst of picking up three quick fouls; the Heat never moved the scoreboard to double digits. That's three games in this series and not once has Miami ever lead by 10 points.
James and Chalmers continued to move the Heat offense against a Pacers team that didn't appear to have the extra oomph needed to really turn the game on its head, but quietly, and surely, they chipped away at the Heat's lead. David West and Roy Hibbert played big, but it was a George Hill three pointer that put the Pacers back on top 37-36 as the second quarter wound down. Hill would lead the way for the Pacers down the second quarter stretch as Chalmers and James continued to be a handful.
The teams went into the break tied at 43, but as has been clockwork, the Indiana Pacers came out firing in the third quarter. George and Granger were the catalysts, turning their superb defense on James and Wade into timely offense. The defense finally showed itself to be the dominating tour de force it was at times this series, and the end result was a Pacers team that took the lead, built the lead, and took another double digit lead in the third quarter.
Unlike Game 2, however, this was a double digit lead the Pacers didn't relinquish. While Dwyane Wade continued to struggle in one of his worst games ever to the point where he was yelling at his coach and distancing himself from him throughout the second half, the weight had been picked up by Mario Chalmers, who suddenly was left all alone when LeBron James, following a 16-point first half, put up his only two competitive points in the second half as part of Miami's 12 third quarter points.
It doesn't get old giving credit to Danny Granger and Paul George for their defense on these two guys, but even when it wasn't them, someone else was there to give their two All-Pros fits. The Pacers used a big stretch from Darren Collison to close the third to push the lead up to 18. Roy Hibbert was a maestro tonight as he and George Hill helped hold off the frenzied Mario Chalmers solo show to grab a 94-75 victory to move forward 2-1 in the best of seven series.
Truly, the best note to take from tonight's win was just how Indiana responded to stealing home court advantage. There was no doubt a slight cause for concern when Boston responded to the upstart Sixers by laying the hammer down. What if the Heat got it together and put it to the Pacers? What would happen then? Fortunately, the questions that will be asked tomorrow will be entirely focused on what will happen to the Heat now.
Enjoy the growing respect, but understand the continued anonymity as Wade and James's disappearing act and takes center circle in national media moving forward. The key of course is that Indiana continues to lay the hammer down. There's something to be said that the Pacers have never trailed by double figures this series while the Heat have fallen behind by 10 or more in two of the series' three contests.
- Roy Hibbert finally broke through tonight, piecing together his finest postseason game, one of his finest period (if not his greatest given the stage). Roy finished with 19 points, 18 rebounds, and 5 blocks, pedestrian in the block category, sure, but Hibbert inched close to a 20-20 night and the power in which he played, for him to finally figure out the Heat defenders in a way that he can be successful? That could make games moving forward very fun for Big Roy, who made Eric Spoelstra's decision to start Dexter Pittman look as inane as it appeared and proceeded to beat up on the outmatched Miami front line.
- Danny Granger continued to play big on LeBron James, helping to shut him down in the second half entirely. Granger played his best in the third quarter, dropping 10 of his 17 while forcing James into another cheap "it's not my fault if you run into my elbow" move. The talk this whole series has been, "when will Granger show up and make some noise?" There seemed to be no room for excuse when Granger had done a solid job on James but not kept pace offensively with the league's MVP. Tonight showed just how little the team needs to rely on one player for offense. So long as he can hit the shots he's taking at a decent rate while limiting James to long jumpers, it shouldn't even matter.
- Paul George looked like a completely different player on the court tonight. It's hard to say just how different he looked, but let's just say, it was easy to tell from the very outset that Dwyane Wade wanted absolutely no part of George. The end result was George playing cool and relaxed on offense, which was entirely a byproduct of how great he was playing defensively. While it's entirely unlikely Wade will go 2-13 for 5 points in Game 4, George can continue to make Wade a large non-factor with his defensive play.
- David West himself played power basketball, forcing James to work on defense, and had a cool 14 & 9 to go alongside his positive night. Tyler Hansbrough brought some key hustle points off the bench, especially in the first half when the Pacers appeared to be easing into their hustle play. George Hill struggled at times to push the offense in a good direction, but pieced together a team high 20 points on a few dagger three pointers. Save 'em, will ya? Darren Collison's play late in the third and early in the fourth can't be overlooked, since it allowed the Pacers enough of a cushion to maintain and withstand any push by the Heat, as weak as they were.
All in all, there was way too much to be excited about after tonight. Before the game, ESPN threw up a stat that gave the home team winning Game 3 in a 1-1 series over a 75% chance of winning the series, while dropping them to below 15% if they lose. Every series is different, making blanket statements like that almost preposterous, but there was a big sense heading into tonight that Indiana clawing out of a 1-2 hole against the Heat would've been far too "taxing" to overcome, making a positive result, much less a positive lopsided result, entirely necessary.
While Pacers fans should be ecstatic about pushing the series to 2-1, enthusiasm should absolutely be curbed to represent where this series really stands: 2-1, advantage Pacers. Has Indiana clearly looked like the superior team through three games? Yes. Does it appear the Heat are quickly heading in the wrong direction at the wrong time? It kind of does. Does it mean the next two wins the Pacers need to get in order to advance will be any easier? Not at all.
At some point, you have to feel Miami is due for something to go their way. But maybe it never happens? Maybe the Indiana defense is that good and maybe the Heat can't overcome their severe lack of depth to turn this series around. That would definitely shock the national basketball world, with its complete focus on star basketball, but such declarations are still a ways off. The Pacers, up 2-1 in the series, will get the next two days to enjoy the results before they take the court in Game 4 this Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. Eastern on ABC with eyes set on moving the series to 3-1 while holding serve at home.