It was a night that began with a little bit of trash talk from LeBron James, calling out the Indiana Pacers for what he believes were quotes diminishing his Miami Heat while the Pacers players pumped up their 2-1 series lead last May. James seemed to make it a point that it was going to be fuel for the teams' first meeting in the 2012-13 season, but either the Pacers were ready, or James failed to acknowledge the possibility of bulletin board material going both ways, as Indiana rolled their way to an impressive 87-77 win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Without Danny Granger, few Pacer fans would've let a loss tonight get to them too much. Sure, it's upsetting to watch the Pacers fall in any game, but simply keeping the game competitive, showing Miami that the Pacers are a threat come playoff time. Yet, this current 21-14 Pacers team, hobbled even further with George Hill's big off game due to a mean looking illness made the Heat play Indiana's brand of basketball, led by punishing defense and with plenty of physical, intelligent play.
In the first half, the Pacers were using that defense to keep close with Miami before the Pacers bench ballooned their lead to 10 points late in the second quarter. Dwyane Wade and the Heat responded with an 11-0 run to send the game into the locker room tied up. In the second half, the Pacers went to work. A big 25-15 third quarter ended up being the difference, rebounding and defense leading them to the crucial second half.
The Pacers allowed just 35 second half points to one of the best scoring teams in the NBA, holding them to six points all together in the final eight minutes of the third quarter. Indiana ballooned their lead to 17 in the fourth, and were able to hold on despite their own offensive struggles to end the game, keeping Miami to a season low 77 points. The win was an incredibly rewarding one for the Pacers, who have been a threat at home this season, moving to 13-3 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, having now won eight straight.
The second half was fueled by indiana's 2010 draft class with big wing play from Paul George and Lance Stephenson. George had 29 points and 11 rebounds on the night, 22 points in the second half. George was mesmerizing at stretches in the second half, not only offensively, but in his abilities on the defensive end to key into LeBron James. George hit big shot after big shot, and even if it was an interaction initiated by George, was the only player James acknowledged following the game.
Stephenson on the other hand was hampered in the first half due to foul trouble, but had seven in the first quarter to set the tone for Indiana. In the second half, Stephenson pitched in six crucial points in the third quarter, regaining the lead after falling behind seven as part of a 23-6 close to the quarter. David West helped in that stretch by splashing home a corner three pointer as part of his 14 & 11 double double. West was big tonight at points, not only offensively, but on the glass, pulling down five of Indiana's 22 offensive boards.
Rebounding was a huge key for Indiana in their win tonight. Indiana out-rebounded Miami 55-36, resulting in 23 extra field goal attempts, and when Indiana shot just 36% from the floor, they needed every single one. While the Heat aren't a team to judge on regular season play, there almost has to be a little bit of concern for their lack of rebounding. A recent loss to the Chicago Bulls had a similar rebounding disparity, which should give both teams plenty of confidence in future matchups.
Not only was rebounding and defense huge, but so to was the defense. A quiet stat about the 2012-13 Miami Heat is their 9-0 record when their bench outscores their opponent's. It's a fair concern for the Indiana Pacers especially looking at point production from the bench throughout the year. But D.J. Augustin led the bench in a big way tonight, dishing out eight assists, never giving Miami's side the opportunity to come close. Miami's bench scored eight points all together, three Pacers scored seven as part of a 25-point effort.
Ian Mahinmi is still struggling to hit his jumper, but used his size effectively, and Tyler Hansbrough continues to get great results from his jumper. Gerald Green had an up and down night offensively, but did come through on some big plays as did the bench. The offseason moves to bring in Mahinmi, as well as Green and Augustin, was done so with the idea of giving Indiana's bench a better matchup against the Heat. Tonight, the results were conclusive enough to suggest they did exactly what they needed to do.
At the same time, Miami's bench was awful. Their shooters hit two three pointers, Ray Allen wouldn't have hit a shot tonight if he shot it a hundred times, and Mario Chalmer's three in the starting lineup gave Miami's role players a total of 11 points of Miami's 77. Miami had to get the bulk of their work from their big three. Chris Bosh was quiet and effective offensively, but had just five rebounds. Dwyane Wade had 23 first half points, but was held scoreless in the third, finishing with 30. LeBron James had 22 and 10, but wasn't able to involve his teammates effectively with only four assists. Indiana did well to take away the role players, but also forced the stars to work harder for their points.
The win moves Indiana to the previously mentioned 21-14 record, still fourth in the East, but quietly sit just three games back of the Heat for the top spot in the conference. Indiana will have another opportunity to make noise when they host the New York Knicks on Thursday night. The game will be nationally televised on TNT and feature none other than Reggie Miller on the call. The Pacers at 8-2 is tied for the best current ten game stretch in the NBA and a win against New York, with Reggie, on TNT? There may not be a better chance to show the league how dangerous the Indiana Pacers can be, even without Danny Granger.