How the Pacers made this a game after the first twelve minutes is nothing short of a miracle. After successfully keeping Dwyane Wade limited in both of the first two games, he made up for all lost time by destroying the Pacers and leading the Heat with 22 first quarter points that helped put them in murder mode. With all the hype coming into this one, a letdown was a possibility, but not to the degree Indiana fell into a hole.
Wade made it a point to get involved early and often, and before you could even catch your breath, he had scored 20 points and the Heat were up 15 points, on their way to a twenty-four point Miami lead. Nothing the Pacers were doing was working. The Heat defense smoked out any and all plays Indiana tried to make, and Miami was getting everything they wanted. When it was all said and done and the dust settled, Miami lead by an astounding 41-19 at the end of the first quarter.
It was not exactly the start Indiana was hoping to have, but nevertheless, it was the bed they had made, and they made no qualms about laying in it. The second unit helped calm down the Heat, opening the second quarter on a 9-2 run that cut the lead to 15. Miami worked to keep the game at higher reaches, but Tyler Hansbrough, A.J. Price, and Paul George continued to push the lead down step by step. By the time the starters reached the floor in the second quarter, Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts pushed the lead under ten points. Just like that. Wade pushed the game back to eight with just under two minutes, and Brandon Rush, in his first game action in three weeks, aided the comeback by hitting a wide open three pointer. Added with a technical free throw thanks to Erick Dampier losing his temper against Roy Hibbert, and the Pacers went into the locker room just down four, having erased nearly all of that insurmountable lead.
Defense paved the way in the second quarter as guys avoided easy fouls and upped hustle points to an all-time high. Hibbert was no stranger to fighting for the ball on the floor, and in the end, it was paying off. Paul George got the start of the second half, and went straight to work. Miami pushed the lead back to eight, but George got some work in on both ends, and would score five straight Pacers points in the third. He hit his second three pointer of the game (I know, right?) to cut the lead to just three. Darren Collison stole the ball on a lazy inbound, and dished it to Granger, who hit the shot and tied the game up at 64. A sigh of relief was exhaled. The Pacers had erased the lead and could now play from square one.
George continued to push, and helped the Pacers take a five-point lead, but would give up a 6-0 run to quickly lose it. Dahntay Jones and Tyler Hansbrough weathered a pair of LeBron James jumpers, and held a slim 83-82 lead heading into the final quarter. A much maligned Mike Dunleavy returned for only a few minutes in the second half, enough time to hit a crucial two point basket over Eddie House, and following a pair of Jeff Foster free throws, would head into a tie game at the most crucial turning point of the night.
The Pacers managed to make three consecutive stops on the Heat, but were unable to convert on any of their next three possessions. Indiana would eventually go two minutes with a point, and while they held Miami to just two, in the same stretch, it had to do more with their inability to capitalize. James pushed to close this one out, including an impressive pass to himself for a dunk, eventually putting Miami up 7 with three to go. Unable to make plays on the offensive end down the stretch once again doomed Indiana, as they would fall in a hard fought battle, daggered by the only other player on Miami any good, Chris Bosh, leaving another case of "well, they played them well, just couldn’t come up with it."
It’s little consolation after a similar finish to last week’s game, but given the team’s nature of folding in tight games not being a completely fixed issue, it is a tough loss to take. The fact this team came back against a Miami team determined to show the league they weren’t afraid of playing Indiana is impressive, however, and it should change nothing as far as Miami moves forward. They know they can win, but they shouldn’t expect it to be easy, especially if they continue to showcase the worst depth in the entire NBA and have to rely on getting 82% of their scoring from three players. That can only get a team so far, and the sooner Udonis Haslem gets back, the better for them, but this Heat team is no longer "learning how to play together," they are what they are; and that’s a team that’s going to have a chance of winning if all three of their stars perform at a high level every night. Nothing more, nothing less.
After the jump, more on a team with legitimate depth, but nothing at the top:
- Danny Granger. By no fault of his, I certainly don’t intend to hold it against him, but I for one, and I can’t speak for Tom, Rick, or Ian, but I am giving up on Granger as a leader on this team. That doesn’t mean I want to trade him. No. In fact, keeping him to go alongside a legitimate leader would make this team all the more dangerous. But the fact is, despite trying to make plays, he consistently came up short. He was only able to muster up 14 points, especially considering how much simply getting to 20 points would’ve meant to this team, I’m afraid to say I think he came up small, but I don’t think he should be lambasted for that. He’s simply not the player we need him to be, but would still be immensely useful on this team regardless of that oversight.
- Paul George. Well, he could be. A solid stretch in the third quarter that saw him explode for five huge points of eight, including a hat trick of triples on the night for 14 points of his own, not bad considering he spent most of the night with the ball trying to do more than he’s currently capable of doing, which is still among the absolute best on this team period. His defensive effort on Dwyane Wade was admirable. He got beat a couple times, but he also did his fair share of taking shots away from Wade. I think the team could’ve benefited heavily from using him offensively in the fourth quarter when they needed a basket. They got plays from Hibbert, but Collison and Granger consistently struggled, and George didn’t get much action down the stretch to make a play. A shame in a way. As IndyPacers mentioned in the game thread, the talk of George’s potential should be put to rest. Even if he never improves another ounce, he’s already a solid NBA player.
- Mike Dunleavy quickly found his way in hate mode and to on-the-bench mode after he allowed Wade to do quite a bit of what he wanted to. Despite his struggles, partially due to foul trouble and illness, did find redemption in the team’s first basket of the fourth quarter. Credit to Vogel for going back to Dunleavy after a rough first half, to match him up against driving non-threat James Jones, and get a few solid minutes out of him.
- Dahntay Jones continued his solid play, keeping the defensive effort higher, and Brandon Rush came in shortly to make a successful defensive stand himself, while adding a huge three pointer to the mix. Ultimately, there wasn’t enough point production from the wing unit, who ended up with just 39 points.
- Roy Hibbert, on the other hand, played very well. He not only finished with 18 points on 7-16 shooting, but really made life more difficult inside. He continued to abuse the Heat front line offensively, time and time again, hitting rather sizeable shots that really bode well for that whole confidence thing. Jeff Foster and Josh McRoberts continued offering just what is the team needs: toughness and endless fight, and a couple of nice highlight jams from McRoberts.
- Tyler Hansbrough, however, continues to make the most out of every possession he’s a part of. Unwilling to back down, either by choice or by sheer existence, he was constantly there to make life difficult for anyone who had the misfortune of being on the court with him. He finished with 16 points and 5 boards, earning a couple trips to the line, though clearly, not enough.
- Darren Collison struggled big time tonight. He didn’t seem to have an answer for a Heat gameplan set to make life difficult for him. It didn’t read to me like we should be worried about his long term prospects as a starter, but he’ll need to work on this in the future. He finished just 1-11 of the field, and his decision making in the fourth quarter, especially in not seeking out George, didn’t sit completely right with me.
- A.J. Price on the other hand, continued to have a great second unit effort on lockdown, adding a pair of triples to the second quarter comeback. I think his superior play on the night would’ve been nice to see in Collison’s stead, especially with Collison’s struggles so evident, but there are switches/non-switches that would make me more irate. I’m okay going down with Collison if need be, if familiarity is a factor, but I wouldn’t mind opening it up to Price’s swagger closing it out if Collison is having a rough night. It’s about winning, and I’d hope anyone struggling on any given night would understand that.
All in all, despite the team being outrebounded for the first time in the Vogel era, they once again put forth a solid effort, one that wins on most nights against most teams, but not enough to stop Miami’s big three. James mentioned after the game that he wanted to come out and crush the Pacers in an attempt to quiet the folks who had said things like, "The Heat don’t want to see the Pacers in the playoffs." I don’t necessarily know if James or the Heat can still think that, not after the way the Pacers fought back.
It seems the team really is one piece away, the hardest possible piece to obtain, so here’s hoping money can talk, the CBA is beneficial to our situation, and Paul George might just be able to do that. The Pacers will turn around and face the Detroit Pistons in Detroit before being absent all together from All-Star Weekend. Hopefully they can get a return to the win column tomorrow night.