Things went south for the Indiana Pacers in four minutes flat in the final regular season meeting against the Miami Heat as the Heat put the hurt on Indiana as part of a 16-0 run to open the third quarter. Miami would wrap up the win at 98-86 as the Heat reclaim the top spot in the Eastern Conference with the regular season reaching ts final weekend.
Even though this doesn't necessarily decide the #1 seed, it will almost assuredly require a perfect close to the season and some more favors from the Heat, who are in complete control of their own destiny, to make it happen. And given the way the game unfolded, that home court advantage going to Miami may prove to be incredibly problematic for the Pacers if it happens to come down to that Game 7 they are almost bracing for.
Putting aside Indiana's need to actually reach the Eastern Conference Finals to play the Heat (as well as Miami needing to overcome their own path whatever it may be), there was plenty cropping up in tonight's game to make that potential Game 7 a bear for the Pacers. The Pacers opened up in great spirits, with fantastic ball movement leading to sharp looks and efficient shooting giving Indiana a 25-23 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Indiana maintained a lead through much of the second quarter despite Miami gaining a big leg up at the line, using a 10-0 free throw advantage. The Pacers shooting came back to earth in part thanks to turnovers, with a pair of Paul George threes in the final minute helping to limit Miami's 12-6 run to close the half. But once the opening minutes of the third hit, and Miami pieced together their 16-0 run, things more or less wrapped up in the loss column for the blue and gold.
The Pacers would slice the lead to within nine and manage to keep it under 15 despite falling behind 22, but they were no real threat to win the game with their rebounding, turnovers, and foul frustrations not playing in their favor. The Heat did a fantastic job disrupting the Pacers offense after the first quarter, dropping Indiana under 50% on the night and turning them over at will.
By some minor miracle, the Pacers had just six second half turnovers, but it felt like a lot more given their inability to complete a simple pass throughout the entire second half. The Pacers had 16 turnovers on the night, but it allowed Miami to score 20 extra points (Miami had 10 extra shot attempts and nine extra free throw attempts). The turnovers were especially costly when they allowed Miami to run in transition, scoring 18 fast break points.
The Heat came away with 11 offensive rebounds (just five for Indiana) as part of a lopsided rebounding battle, with Miami winning 40-31. Udonis Haslem was a force following up fast break misses in the second half, all four of his offensive rebounds led to Heat points, six by him. LeBron James was on point early, and carried the Heat with 36 points, which proved to be more than enough given Miami's strengths in other areas of the game.
It's a game like this that really pauses any real enthusiasm of Indiana actually beating the Miami Heat in a seven game series. Indiana continues to show no real offensive chops and while they can find success with ball movement, they have no adjustments offensively when teams adjust to them. Once Miami read Indiana's passing lanes, the Pacers had nothing that could counter balance that.
And while it didn't end up being much of a difference with Indiana doing their part giving the game away, the officiating did Indiana little to no favors throughout the game. In three first quarter possessions, LeBron James escaped a foul in each despite being involved in (if not the proponent) of all three fouls. That's no surprise given the officials showing so much favor towards James, but conspiracy theories aside, home officiating can certainly help a team. It certainly worked in Miami's favor tonight, and it's part of the reason why Game 7 at home is such a key advantage.
But Indiana won't have to worry about heading to Miami for a Game 7 if they don't get more from Roy Hibbert, who labored his way to five points and one rebound in 34 minutes. While getting on Hibbert for a lack of scoring early isn't entirely fair given the movement of the offense favoring the extra pass, but he was a complete non-factor through this game, and that's something the Pacers absolutely cannot afford if they hope to reach their goals in the upcoming postseason.
It was another night that Ian Mahinmi, who even in his usual foul trouble and 14 minutes, had two points and five rebounds to show for his efforts. It was another night that the continued absence of Andrew Bynum could be a monumental difference in Indiana's postseason fortunes. George Hill, who didn't even shoot the ball, was less of a hindrance on offense than Hibbert has been, and that's never a good sign. It's true Hill needs to be more active offensively, but Hibbert's descent into whatever he's sunk into will drag the team with him before Hill will.
As such, the remaining starters (and even spirited bench efforts) can only go so far, especially if Indiana doesn't quite turning the ball over. Paul George had 22 points with five rebounds and five assists, but led with Lance Stephenson, the two turning it over four times. David West fouled out late in the game, wrapping up with a solid 18 points and eight rebounds.
Luis Scola continued his positive trend with 12 points on 5-8 shooting and C.J. Watson put in 10 welcome points off the bench in his second game back. While a surprise to some, Chris Copeland went back to mostly benchwarming duties, getting enough game action to hit a three while Evan Turner had just a three in his 16 minutes of action, picking up a technical with Indiana down nine that could've helped Miami end a four minute scoring drought, leading them to a 5-0 run to put the game on ice.
Again, the Pacers aren't locked into the number two seed, but with just two games remaining, they no longer control their own destiny for the top spot in the East. Around the Conference, a Chicago win and Toronto loss moves the Bulls up to third place while a Washington win and Charlotte loss drops the Bobcats to the seventh place, making them the current first round matchup for the Pacers.
There were still enough positives even in a loss to really make it feel like Indiana is still shaping up for a decent enough postseason run, though where that ends up is hard to say exactly. Suffice to say, the rest of the conference doesn't seem as much of a concern as Miami in a seven game series, but it hardly guarantees the Miami/Indiana matchup that's been expected since the beginning of the regular season.
But tonight's game showed that Miami may be struggling, but they've still got explosive abilities, and are still the team to beat, especially if their opponent allows them that as Indiana did.