There aren't many more frustrating ways to let a winnable game slip away than the way the Indiana Pacers did tonight. Leading most of the second half, including a four point fourth quarter, the Pacers watched their lead float away behind turnovers, a series of bumps and bruises, and the two best players on the Miami Heat playing that way. It was an agonizing final five minutes, but one the Pacers were all but destined to experience given the flow of the game to that point.
The opening minutes of Game 2 played as a direct sequel to Game 1; the Pacers were crisp and sharp with their movements and the Heat were still lazy and tentative. It allowed Indiana to jump up by eight points thanks to nine points by Lance Stephenson. For the Heat, Dwyane Wade was the only player keeping Miami in the game, scoring eight of Miami's first 10. Miami closed the quarter on an 10-3 run to draw within a point.
By that point, Indiana's offensive struggles were taking center stage. Rasual Butler hit a pair of threes to keep Miami at bay, but a much improved Miami effort allowed them to frustrate the Indiana bench, holding Indiana scoreless for the next 4:55 of the game, using a 9-0 run to take a 32-27 lead. Indiana was able to score six of the next seven to tie the game at 33-33, but foul trouble to David West sent him to the bench for the remainder of the half.
The Heat responded with another run to jump up big at 41-33, but a pair of buckets by the Pacers would cut the lead to four at hafltime. In the third quarter, Lance Stephenson guided the Pacers, scoring 10 points on electric play, pushing Indiana into the lead 60-54. That's when LeBron James began to play smarter; he attacked the paint, and in drawing the defender, found open shooters in the corner for threes.
Miami didn't fail at converting the open looks, with three back breaking corner threes pushing the Heat into the 67-65 lead early in the fourth quarter. Indiana responded with an 8-2 run to jump ahead 73-69, but for every three pointer they hit, Miami was there to respond with one of their own, James hitting a three to draw them within a point. Roy HIbbert would make a three point game at 75-72 with 5:33 to go, but Wade and James turned the game on its head at that point.
Misses and turnovers by the Pacers, added with some unfortunate moments, including George getting kneed in the back of the head by Wade, West getting poked in the eye, and Stephenson and Hibbert coming up a little tender. While Wade was sharp all night, James was extremely quiet, but the two of them combined for a big fourth quarter, scoring 22 of Miami's 25 points, with them scoring or assisting on Miami's final 33 points.
The Pacers made some late pushes, but still fell shy as the Heat closed out the 87-83 win to tie the series at 1-1. Huge swings throughout the night helped carve the outcome of the game with Indiana's offensive rebounding and second chance opportunities lifting Indiana throughout the night, but the Indiana bench was outscored 20-9, including Norris Cole, who had 11 on his own.
Miami was also able to adjust on Indiana's offensive rebounding in the fourth quarter, essentially closing down the second chance opportunities of the Pacers. Indiana would eventually climb up to 40% for the game, but needed the extra 13 field goal attempts as the Heat once again shot above 50%. Wade once again shot lights out, going 10-16, and though James was hardly an impact throughout the night, he came on late, eventually finishing up 9-18.
But while James and Wade proved the deadly duo, Lance Stephenson got no extended help from his team, though the rest of the starting lineup once again reached double figures. He had 25 points on 10-16 shooting with seven assists and six rebounds. Much like Game 1, Stephenson was in attack mode, making the Heat pay throughout the night. His third quarter play elevated him to "best player in the series" status, but him coming out of the game a little winded kept him from getting involved down the stretch in the fourth.
Maybe Indiana can still come away with a win if Paul George or David West don't shoot as poorly as they do. The two combined for 9-32 shooting, with late injuries causing their own issues with the game winding down. George was 4-16, starting 1-11. He came up with a couple of key three pointers in the second half, but couldn't elevate his game either due to the Wade knee, which caused him to black out or simply being unable to find the bottom of the net.
West too missed some characteristic looks, going 5-16 for 10 points. His first half foul trouble helped shift the game in Miami's favor, but his play early in the third quarter helped push Indiana back into the lead at 53-52 with six third quarter points. West went scoreless after that, his eye getting poked by Cole, eventually leading him to leaving (and re-entering) the game.
George Hill had three second half three pointers that were big for the Pacers as part of his 13, but neither him nor Roy Hibbert were involved enough in the offense to make a monumental impact, despite being the only two starters above 50% shooting at 5-9 apiece. Hibbert was excellent on the offensive glass, coming up with a 12 point, 13 rebound double double, coming up with eight of Indiana's 16 rebounds. But his offense came more on put backs than it did within the flow of the offense.
All things considered, tonight's outcome was simply a case of two future Hall of Famers playing like it. Whether fatigue or injury, Indiana was not sharp enough in the final minutes and let the game slip through their fingers. It was the first time this postseason Indiana has really fallen flat down the stretch, but there was little to take away from tonight's game that would really be a major cause for concern.
These two teams have proven to be so evenly matched that there will almost certainly be five more of these over the next 10 days, but losing the way they lost has to be frustrating for the Pacers, who had a big 2-0 series lead right in their sights with five minutes to go. Moving forward, the series will shift to Miami, and the Pacers will have to come up with a win in Game 3 or 4 to put it back in their favor.
Despite the heavy success of home teams in this series recently, both teams have proven more than capable of winning on the other's home floor in the playoffs, now it's Indiana's turn to win in Miami. Game 3 will be on Saturday night, an extra long layoff hopefully serving the Pacers well to get rested following the second half bumps and bruises they came up with.