Despite 20-point nights from David West and Paul George, the Pacers stumbled down the stretch as LeBron James grabbed George and a 97-94 victory for Miami.
The Indiana Pacers were victims of a 15-4 run in the game's final four minutes as the Miami Heat captured a hard fought 97-94 win. The Pacers struggled out of the gate thanks to turnovers and easy buckets by the Heat, but jumped into the lead heading into the break. The Pacers jumped up by as many as 15 in the third quarter, which was a 90-82 advantage with just under four minutes to go.
The Heat who missed their first nine three pointers, hit five in the second half, including back-to-back threes with a minute remaining to put Miami in the lead. David West cut the three point advantage to one on a pair of free throws, and a stop with 25 seconds remaining gave Indiana the ball with a chance to win. But out of their final timeout, George Hill attacked the paint, flipping it to Paul George who went the opposite direction as the ball ended up in the hands of LeBron James, eventually sending Ray Allen to the line, who hit both free throws, putting them up three.
On the game's final play, the Pacers, with no timeouts, moved it up the floor and George leaned into a game tying three pointer. As he took the three, he appeared to be moved to the right as the shot sailed to the right. No foul was called and Miami walked off the court victorious. Feel free to check out the game's final play below to reach your own conclusion.
It looks like James got away with one, but it's difficult to put yourself at the mercy of the officials to bail out what was necessary thanks to a pitiful turnover on the previous possession. Officials can shift the outcome of a game, but they can't decide the outcome of a game, and tonight's was an example of that. While the officials missed the call, it wasn't as if the Pacers didn't just blow an eight point lead and score just four points in that final stretch. So despite the missed call, Miami put themselves in position to win where Indiana did not, and it proved to be a decision that favored Miami in that regard.
The game was actually shaped from the outset thanks to whistles, with early foul trouble for James and Roy Hibbert
sending both to the bench with three first half fouls. The absence of both players was felt more by the Heat, as the Pacers moved their lead into double figures in the first half. As well, Ian Mahinmi
had his best game of the season, playing high energy, highly effective basketball in place of Hibbert.
But there's really no substitute for Hibbert, so when he picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, Frank Vogel's fever dream gamble to keep the big fella in the game proved to be the incorrect one as Hibbert promptly scored his fifth foul not even four minutes into the third quarter. The Pacers again were aided by Mahinmi's play, but the Heat were finding ways to slowly work back into the game without Hibbert's presence inside.
James's ability to avoid a fourth or fifth foul was a huge swing for Miami, as James found success around the basket, especially when he found himself guarded by Luis Scola
, which was predictably bad on Indiana's side of the ball. Even still, by the time Hibbert returned, he was able to guide Indiana to their eight point lead with his only second half basket, so it's not as if Hibbert didn't have a chance to swing the game in Indiana's favor.
Miami's ability to finally find a stroke from three point range helped cap a big game from James and Dwyane Wade. The Heat's shooters dead on arrival for 32 minutes, missing their first nine, before Norris Cole
hit the teams' first three, the first of five, each one pulling Miami just a little closer, from nine, to eight, to three, to a tie before Allen's wide open look put Miami up or good.
The Pacers got big nights from Paul George and David West, especially in the second half where they put the team on their backs. George shot better tonight, going 8-16 for 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists, but it wasn't enough compared to James's 24, nine, and seven, much less his ability to get to the basket. James was able to stay on George throughout the night despite his early foul troubles, and the difference in strength was obvious at times between the two despite George's solid night.
West on the other hand kept a running list of Heat defenders he bulldozed on his way to 23 points. West was a human wrecking ball, hitting big shot after big shot in the second half to give Indiana opportunities to win. His free throws helped give the Pacers an opportunity for a final shot game winner, and it was unfortunate to see Indiana not even get a shot at the rim on that turnover. Lance Stephenson
had a spirited first half with 11 of his 13, and despite his 2-8 shooting and costly turnover, George Hill made some plays as part of his seven points.
Off the bench, Luis Scola had eight, but on just 3-8, didn't quite have enough on his shot tonight to help Indiana push towards the lead. But it was really Mahinmi who lifted Indiana off the bench. His defense, hustle, and key stops were instrumental in Indiana's ability to push the lead with him in the game. But his offensive inabilities were on full display, with him missing all of his jump shots. Indiana had little trouble getting points from George and West at times, but not having Hibbert on offense really helped swing the game in Miami's favor. It also led to Miami winning the rebounding battle 37-36.
Indiana also had 16 turnovers, which led to 19 Miami points, and 50 points in the paint for the Heat proved to be too much to overcome despite early success keeping Miami's out of paint points to a bare minimum. When the jumpers and threes began to fall, the Pacers didn't have enough to stop the Heat from still scoring in the paint even though Indiana made the most of second chance opportunities.
So the loss drops Indiana to 20-5, just a game ahead of the Heat in the East, and on their first two game losing streak of the season. They'll have to rebound quickly with a home test against the Houston Rockets
on Friday. The Pacers might see the return of Danny Granger
, which might help, but avoiding a third straight loss is going to be front and center for Indiana when they tip off on Friday.
After a pair of less than stellar performances against Charlotte and Detroit, piling this as a loss on top of it despite having control of the game for much of the night will give Indiana their first real taste of adversity early in the second quarter of the season. Just as Miami did a week ago, the Pacers have to act like they didn't care at all about winning this one, and get back in the win column on Friday. But a loss like tonight absolutely illustrated the importance of Indiana having home court advantage against the Heat. Miami's ability to turn games around on their home floor is something that isn't going away regardless of Wade's deteriorating knees or James' bum ankle.