It's somewhat hard to imagine how the Indiana Pacers came away with a win given they were once shooting 25% and couldn't get two points to save their lives, but as they have throughout the entire year, the Pacers fought through their nightly struggles to come away with a win they absolutely had to have with a struggling Miami Heat team on their heels the entire second half.
Indiana opened up in a similar sense as they did in Game 1, helping to set the pace by feeding Roy Hibbert and David West in the paint. The successful formula gave Indiana a 16-7 lead just beyond the halfway point of the first quarter. At that point, Miami adjusted on the defensive end, and Indiana lost their composure, effectively collapsing into some of their worst basketball of the season, where an offensive set consisted of dribbling for 15 seconds and hoping for the best.
LeBron James drew the Heat back as the first quarter wore on. Indiana mustered up a single point for the final five and a half minutes, Miami going up 21-17 on a 12-1 run. The silver lining to Indiana's pathetic offensive showcase, complete with bricks, turnovers, and bad possession after bad possession was that they only trailed four after one, and as they labored through a 2-15 shooting stretch, their defense remained focused and locked in as the Heat never jumped out to anything more than an eight point lead.
When Indiana finally broke out of their slump, they did so on a lightning fast 9-0 run thanks to Danny Granger, Paul George, and George Hill to tie the game up at 33 before Miami took a quick five point finish to go up by as many as the half drew to a close. For the Pacers, who shot 25% at a point before catching fire and jumping it up to 31% at the break, holding Miami at 40% for the half.
The defense proved to be key as the Heat, clearly aching for any kind of relief from James and Wade having to carry the entire weight of the team, stumbled out in the third quarter, having a showcase as bad as Indiana's first half woes. The Heat made just three field goals in third quarter, one the Pacers dominated in. Indiana scored 28 of their 78 in the third, holding Miami to 14. Hill and David West helped lead the way for the blue and gold, but it was Leandro Barbosa who made some key plays to put Indiana up double figures as the quarter drew to a close with the Pacers up 61-52.
Miami's struggles weren't on accident. The defensive efforts of Paul George and Danny Granger was monumental on James and Wade, turning the attack first superstars into jump shooters, favoring the Pacers in a huge way. But the Pacers, even up 9, would need to finally make a stand against a favored opponent, as it was obvious every single point was going to be huge in the final period.
Wade and James were the only options for the Heat again in the fourth quarter, and it was up to the Pacers to hold their lead. James got the Heat going early, chipping away at the lead as he and Wade crashed misses to get themselves some easy buckets. It was impressive to watch the two get what they wanted at any point, but more so was the response by the Pacers.
Every time the Heat moved forward, there was a Pacer to respond. Leandro Barbosa, Darren Collison, David West, they all played huge roles to hold the Pacer advantage. When Wade and James finally broke through to take a 72-71 lead with just under four minutes, it was hard to not think it was about to happen again. The Pacers were about to lose another game with the game winding down. But the playoff experience of Barbosa and West played huge dividends as each got a bucket to keep Miami at bay.
Dwyane Wade cut the game to 1 with under three to go, and it was painful as every second ticked away for Pacers fans. With under 90 seconds to go, James appeared to have an easy look at the bucket before Paul George came up with a game saving block that turned into free throws for the young fella. Unfortunately, George whiffed on both FTs, leaving the game at one as James turned around and got back to the free throw line on a foul that sent Danny Granger out of the game with six fouls.
But in what will no doubt be the dominating talking point of this game tomorrow, LeBron James stepped to the line and missed both of his free throw attempts. The national media loves to give the Heat praise, but they also love slamming James for coming up short. The missed free throws were huge, that is until Roy Hibbert was only able to drill one of his two on the opposite end, a heroic hustle play saved by West and Barbosa to give Indiana an extra possession.
Back on the Heat side of the ball, James's mental toughness is about to be scrutinized to a ridiculous degree, but there's a reason it is. Watching James pass the ball away twice and not even try to look for a shot with the Heat down 2 and under 30 seconds to go will not go unnoticed, as Wade's jumper went awry, sending Hill to the line. Hill would split his FTs, his second ricocheting off and Hill's hustle not enough to save it before giving it back to the Heat with 8 seconds and the ball on their own baseline.
Mario Chalmers ended up with the game tying shot, a miss, as time ran out on the Miami Heat comeback, giving the Indiana Pacers a huge satisfying win they desperately tried to give away at numerous points. Even though all of the talking points will revolve around the LeBron James missed free throws, the third quarter was huge. The Pacers defense deserves credit for this win. They weren't perfect, but they did a superb job forcing everything through James and Wade (even forcing them into jump shots galore) and effectively shutting down their entire roster.
Indiana played poorly, but got enough from their roster to come away with a win on a night it appeared the Heat couldn't possibly play any worse. The Heat finished up at 35%, 1-17 from three point range, getting 52 of the team's 75 total points from James and Wade. While it doesn't appear the Heat can really play any worse, the good news is that Indiana can continue to wear down those two and hopefully continue to win in the series.
The Pacers need to improve their own offensive execution. At the times they moved the ball and weren't halted by Miami's defense, they played extremely well, but they were caught far too often. Miami's defense can ratchet it up at points and really play dominating ball, though it seems impossible for them to keep it up for long stretches. The key for the Pacers may not be to play great team ball through the entire game, but to play much like they did tonight: weather Miami's defensive waves with solid defense themselves and use the Heat's weaker defensive stretches to really pour on the points.
Of course, Vogel likely has better plans, and it's far more exciting to send the series back to Indiana tied at one to get that opportunity.
- Danny Granger took plenty of heat following his Game 1 effort. He didn't change his offensive fortunes tonight, but had a couple of key stretches to really help the blue and gold. Tonight's play was almost entirely a defensive effort. People have given Granger unwarranted grief for years about his defense. The dirty little secret is that he was never as bad as people perceived him to be. He absolutely took the task of guarding LeBron James and did a superb job, wisely (well...almost wisely) using his six fouls to his advantage tonight. In fact, you could argue his sixth foul was the most important of all as it resulted in the two James bricks.
- Paul George had another frustrating night offensively. He appeared far more capable of attacking, but his lack of overall strength came back on him as he spent most of the game getting beaten down low. George drilled a pair of big threes and himself played impressive "that's the Paul George we know and love" defense on James and Wade. His block on James as the game wound down was the cherry on top as he really held the two to largely forced isolation jumpers, picked their pocket a few times, and ended with a 10 & 11 double double. Nice!
- Roy Hibbert was the go to guy at the beginning of the game, but was largely removed from the action when Miami adjusted. That's not to say Roy didn't make his plays as he still came down with 11 boards over the course of the night. The talking points will certainly revolve around getting Hibbert more involved, but if Indiana can use him to their advantage in forcing Miami to account for him, that could be a huge advantage as well. For Roy, however, he was hit a couple of times on Wade and James floaters by being unwilling to come up and potentially allow the two to drive past him if he committed to their pull ups. Given that was the result of Indiana's generally woeful pick and roll defense, it can't fall entirely on Roy, but Indiana will need to continue to hope they can account for it better.
- David West was once again the biggest player in the game no one cares to talk about. West had 16 & 10, hit some huge buckets down the stretch, but his role as a leader really came into play in a big way. James and Granger got into a mini scuffle before West stepped in to keep Granger's head cool. Following the win, the Pacers (as they routinely do, apparently) over-celebrated according to Wade (who by the way found time to shove Collison to the ground in the middle of a fast break, heated and upset over lack of calls on the other end), and it was West who was set to keep them collected, urging them back to the locker room immediately, and letting it be known that they can't get too excited about winning one game in a best of seven series.
- Leandro Barbosa was huge at stretches tonight. His high glass layup was on full display as he came up with some key buckets at crucial times for the blue and gold. Though he spent most of his time on the floor getting beaten by Wade, it was his ability to respond and stay active that helped the Pacers in a big way.
- George Hill had a quiet 15 points, hitting some nice shots, but continued to turn the ball over. It's been a bit of a labor of love for Hill this postseason. Certainly, he's been huge at points, but except for Game 1 in this series, Darren Collison has played smarter ball and run the offense with more efficiency. Speaking of Collison, he survived the dirty play by Wade and, as felt like every field goal in this ugly affair, hit a couple of wonderful and timely buckets to help the Pacers cause in the win.
Indiana gets to travel back home with the series knotted at 1-1. While the Pacers routinely played from 0-2 in the Reggie Miller days, it's a habit the 4th best road team in the NBA shouldn't have to fall into. The Pacers won their 8th road game in their last nine tries, and have used it to steal home court in the series. With the series shifting back to what will no doubt be a Market Square Arena-style home crowd, the Pacers are in prime position to make a huge statement if they can hold serve at home in Game 3 on Thursday, which tips off at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.