George Hill got the ball rolling for the Indiana Pacers, who pieced together a wire-to-wire victory over the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, scoring the first five points for the Indiana Pacers as part of a 7-0 start. Indiana had a top notch offensive performance thanks to great movement and pick and roll success, opening up for a 30 point first quarter.
Indiana was 10-17 in the quarter, including 5-6 from three point range. They pushed their lead into double figures, holding strong at six heading into the second. C.J. Watson would help maintain the lead. Miami closed the Indiana lead to five at 50-45 with 2:34 remaining in the second quarter. The Pacers scored five to close the half, pushing their lead to 10, holding Miami scoreless in the final two and a half minutes of the quarter.
The third quarter defined by Indiana's free throw shooting. The Pacers got to the line early and often in the quarter, going 13-17, as their lead ballooned up to 19 points with under two minutes left in the quarter. MIami closed the quarter strong with an 8-0 run, fueled by a pair of turnovers by the Pacers, but Paul George hit a tough floater to push Indiana's lead back to 13, ensuring their victory in the third quarter, sweeping the first three.
Dwyane Wade would cut the lead to nine early in the fourth quarter, bringing the Heat to within double figures for the first time in the second half, but George responded with a big three point play to push the lead back to double figures. Mario Chalmer's flagrant foul on C.J. Watson allowed Indiana to push the lead back to 15. Indiana's 7-0 run halfway through the quarter pushed them over 100 points and gave them an 18 point lead with 4:11 remaining.
LeBron James hit an ensuing four point play to cut the lead to 14, his only points of the quarter, with West keeping the Heat from making a late run with a follow up bucket. The Pacers would hold onto their double figure lead as they down the Heat 107-96 to hold home court and win Game 1, taking a 1-0 series lead. Indiana played exceptionally well offensively today, shooting 51.5% and scoring the most they have in regulation since February 25th.
The Pacers were able to do this with a punishing pick and roll game, which either resulted in a bucket or trips to the free throw line. Indiana was excellent early from three point range, hitting six of their first seven to help create some early distance from the Heat, but were able to remain on top of the game despite finishing 2-12 from there. Indiana also succeeded early by capitalizing on Miami miscues, scoring seven quick points off turnovers. They also won the rebounding battle handily, 38-29, with seven on the offensive glass.
Indiana built a huge free throw advantage through the game, going to the line 22 times, outscoring Miami by 19. Despite the difference (and foul differential at 26-15), there never felt to be a huge disparity in the types of calls. The officials always tend to favor the team playing harder, and it's something the Pacers absolutely did today. Indiana's energy early and often not only put them in good position with 50/50 plays, but their shockingly crisp offensive movement had Miami's defense sloppy and scrambling all night.
Miami still played very well offensively, shooting 51.3% themselves, dominating the match in the paint 54-38. James and Wade each scored well. James had 27 and Wade had 25, but neither player really proved themselves as a threat throughout the night. In fact, both Paul George and Lance Stephenson outplayed on a night Indiana's starting lineup was balanced and effective.
George led the way with 24 points for the Pacers to go with seven assists, coming alive in the second half for 18 points, including a pair of tough shots in the second half that were key responses for the Pacers. His floater to end the third halted an 8-0 Heat run, and an and one early in the fourth put Indiana back in double figures for good.
Stephenson proved the biggest wild card for the Pacers, scoring 17 points on 8-12 shooting, and aside from a late "watch this!" three early in the shot clock in the fourth, he played an exceptionally confident game, going straight at Wade and sticking to him on the other end. Wade was great early in the game at hitting tough shots, but it didn't deter Stephenson as the game wore on, hitting tough shots himself along the way.
George Hill was a big catalyst for Indiana's early success. He had 11 first quarter points, shooting 3-3 from three point range to help spark Indiana's first quarter. While he wasn't much of an offensive threat the rest of the night scoring just four more to bring his total to 15, he was a tough piece defensively, a welcome sight in taking Mario Chalmers out of the game with foul trouble early.
David West was solid throughout the night, punishing Miami's on 8-11 shooting, as the Heat tried to limit his effectiveness with James guarding him. West wasn't the only player who worked on James in the post, with Stephenson also finding success backing him down (think that happens again?). West had 19, with opportune buckets to cushion Indiana's lead and push them into double figures and nipping Miami runs before they had a chance to flourish.
The Pacers starters outscored Miami's starters 94-70, a long standing trend that has no reason to not be a factor moving forward in this series with the Heat likely to shuffle players in and out of the lineup, whether swapping Udonis Haslem for Shane Battier, or possibly pretending Greg Oden is still a thing. That will put a lot of weight on the bench to help perform, and C.J. Watson was just the boost Indiana needed, scoring 11 points on 3-4 shooting.
Miami proved ineffective with their small ball lineup (partially due to Chris Bosh's ridiculous playoff three point shooting percentage crashing back to earth, missing all five of his long ball attempts), so while Indiana's front court should continue to see success, foul trouble could bring the advantage back to Miami. Roy Hibbert was excellent despite a poor 5-13 shooting night, going 9-13 from the line with nine rebounds.
If Hibbert should find himself in foul trouble, which is almost certain at some point in the series, they'll need a bigger impact from Ian Mahinmi than they got today, who was wildly ineffective on both ends of the floor, struggling to finish and hold onto the ball. Luis Scola didn't make much of an impact either, but came up with the only other bench points besides Watson on a fast break dunk, while also bringing in five rebounds.
The elephant in the room will be how Frank Vogel will integrate Evan Turner, who missed today's game with strep throat. Vogel said he expects Turner to return the lineup for Game 2, but why? The Pacers looked much better today than they really have at any point this postseason when Turner has been a go. Rasual Butler gave nine anonymous minutes spent chasing Ray Allen, but didn't prove a problem in the team's long term rotations.
While Turner can effectively affect a game, his success rate has been such a small sample size, though to be fair, he was a fairly effective piece of Indiana's rotation in Game 6 against the Wizards. Limited minutes from Turner are one thing, but limiting his amount of touches and what he can do with those touches can only help the Pacers, especially when it comes to moving the ball as well as they did today.
The most popular talking point about Game 1's outcome besides whether or not the foul calls were lopsided will be the 77% success rate among playoff teams that go 1-0 in a series. But regardless of who won today, neither the Heat nor the Pacers have any lack of experience climbing out of 0-1 holes, with a combined seven series wins since 2011 when losing the first game.
For Indiana's sake, it's best they didn't put themselves behind the eight ball for the third straight series, especially with the more difficult opposition of the Miami Heat. This is the team Indiana wanted home court against, and having to regain home court after one game was something the Pacers were best to avoid. The energy in today's game, not only in their offensive movement, but in their ability to win the 50/50 battle, was monumental in coming away with the Game 1 victory.
But Miami will certainly adjust. LeBron James can't be expected to put up such an empty numbers game again, Chris Andersen will still be a threat (he scored 14 on 6-7 shooting), Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers can't be expected to play this poorly all series, and this won't be the only double figure game from Ray Allen or the only 20 point game from Dwyane Wade.
Strap in for what looks to be another long series, enjoy being up 1-0, and get ready for Game 2 on Tuesday night, tipping at 8:30 ET on ESPN, following the NBA Draft Lottery.