The Indiana Pacers were able to do what was seen as the impossible task: adjusting to the Miami Heat after losing Game 3. They were punched in the mouth and it seemed to a lot of people that that was the deciding factor of the series. But 48 minutes later, the Pacers are back, the series is tied, and Indiana successfully adjusted to LeBron James's post game and took away the "scorching hot" Miami role players in the process.
Indiana used an 11-0 start to show they weren't going to be pushed over by the Heat, but it was the plays at the end of quarters that really created the tone of the game. While Miami has thoroughly outplayed Indiana when it comes to closing out quarters and games, Indiana made the plays that mattered in the third and fourth quarters. Indiana wrapped up the third on a 6-0 run, including a buzzer beating three by Lance Stephenson and followed it up with a 16-6 Pacers run in the fourth to close out the win.
It was Indiana's energy that really helped Indiana pull out the win. While the Heat have kept it close in the rebounding battle, the Pacers pounded Miami on the glass, outrebounding the Heat by 19, holding them to 32 points in the paint, and completely removing a big x-factor in Chris Andersen from the game, holding him scoreless with just two rebounds. Taking away Andersen was one of the things the Pacers made a point of, also was their ability to play James extremely tough in the paint.
James was just 3-10 in the first half, and while he finished with 24 before fouling out with under a minute to go in the game, was far from the overwhelming force he has been in this series and this season. The Heat's offense, which exploded in Game 3, was held to just 39%, including 8-23 from three point range, creating plenty of rebounding opportunities the Pacers capitalized on throughout the night.
Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson led the way for the Pacers late, with Hibbert finishing with 23 points and 12 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass. Hibbert has put together three consecutive 20 & 10 games for the first time in his career. Hibbert scored five points in Indiana's closing run, both field goals coming from offensive rebounds.
When Stephenson plays the level he did tonight, scoring 20 on 9-15 shooting, being the tempo maker for the Pacers and frustrating the Heat at every turn. And when the Pacers needed someone besides their front line to step up in this team's biggest game ever, it's easy to forgive his bad shots and poor decisions.
Paul George spent a great deal of the night in foul trouble, but did a much better job guarding James in the paint, but Sam Young played some valuable minutes spelling George and guarding James, scoring six and grabbing six rebounds. George had just 12, but his three point play halfway through the quarter reset a game that was on the verge of getting away from the Pacers after they spiraled following a mistaken shot clock violation.
While the starters were predictably the offensive load, the Pacers not only got valuable minutes from Young, but also Tyler Hansbrough. Hansbrough played just nine minutes, but despite having just three points and one assist, he made positive impacts tonight, from tipping rebounds away from the Heat to that one assist, a sharp pass in traffic for an easy two. Wow!
George Hill set the tone early for the Pacers with 10 points in the first quarter, finishing with 19 and going 9-10 from the free throw line. David West as well, shooting 5-11 from the floor, but finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds to help the Pacers in their decided rebounding advantage.
While this series now sits at 2-2, the same 2-2 the Pacers faced against Miami last year, this feels completely different. While the Heat are supposedly a much better team, the Pacers too have proven their own growth as a team that can legitimately challenge the defending champions. The Pacers are now just two wins away from reaching the NBA Finals, but with the series now heading back to Miami for Game 5 on Thursday, the last two will prove the most difficult. Fortunately, we're seeing a Pacers team that's more than up for the challenge.