After a frustrating six game losing streak where the Indiana Pacers seemed unable to break through for wins despite playing their opponents close, the Pacers have been able to parlay that same hard play and grit into back-to-back wins, following up a home win against Utah with their first road win of the season against the Miami Heat. There hasn't been a change in how Indiana has played, but they're showing strides every night, getting better and coming together as a team.
In a sense, it shouldn't be a real surprise; Indiana went through similar growing pains two years ago when they started 10-11 after the injury to Danny Granger forced Indiana to retool themselves around Paul George. Of course, the big difference this season is just how undermanned Indiana has been and despite how well Solomon Hill has played, he's not exactly a substitute for where George left off.
Even still, the play of the Pacers this season has been impressive, even in losses, but especially in their last two wins. It was only the ninth game of the season, but it felt like a culmination of sorts; to go on the road against a rival Heat team (who looked about as close to their Eastern Conference Finals counterparts tonight as Indiana team) and just "dogged" them for a well deserved win.
Indiana had to weather an early offensive output from Miami, led by Dwyane Wade, who had 11 first quarter points as the Heat would shoot well, taking a 26-24 lead into the second quarter. Three point shooting would be a huge advantage for the Heat early, with Shawne Williams putting in four on his own for 15 points as Miami hit five of their first seven from deep to look in control of the game up 41-32 in the second.
A 9-0 run by the Pacers would help tie the game up, heading into the locker room down 42-41 at the break. A pair of threes from Chris Copeland and Donald Sloan would push Indiana into the lead, setting up a back-and-forth game in the third with Indiana finding distance to close the quarter on a 6-0 run to jump ahead 63-58 heading into the final period.
Indiana would extend their lead to seven with 7:03 in the fourth after a Ian Mahinmi three point play, but Miami would stage a 7-0 run to the game at 72-72 with the Pacers suffering a five and a half minute drought. Roy Hibbert's defense played a huge part in helping Indiana overcoming their lack of offense, a key block on Luol Deng helping reward Indiana's hustle as Sloan pushed Indiana ahead with a three.
Wade responded immediately to tie the game at 75-75. Copeland would break the tie with a layup with 30 seconds remaining, a Mario Chalmers offensive foul on the following possession setting Indiana up at the free throw line to seal an 81-75 win. The Pacers outworked the Heat all night, setting up a dominating night on the glass, outrebounding the Heat 53-28, including 16-6 on the offensive glass.
The rebounding helped Indiana overcome not only a 37.5% shooting night, but 16 turnovers (leading to 16 Heat points) and an 11-4 fast break disadvantage. The Indiana hustle was led in a big way by Lavoy Allen, Solomon Hill, and Roy Hibbert, who had 12 of Indiana's 16 offensive rebounds. Hibbert had 16 points and 15 rebounds, with three blocks.
Hibbert's night was key to Indiana's win, not only with his offense, but especially on the defensive end, where he did his part limiting Chris Bosh, who had his worst game of the season. Bosh hadn't scored under 20 points or seven rebounds in any game this season, but was held to nine points and two rebounds on just 3-13 shooting. This forced a heavier load on Wade, who after a big first quarter, blanked in the second and third periods before pushing Miami for an opportunity to win late, wrapping up with a game high 20.
But Wade's game was hardly enough to help Miami overcome their lack of energy against the Pacers, including nine points and 10 rebounds from Hill. Hill had a rough night from the floor at just 1-12, but got to the line eight times, making plenty of plays towards the basket that helped him come up with five on the offensive glass. Hill's night may have been terrible shooting, but he continued to involve himself in the game despite that.
Hill's evolution from the preseason has been the biggest jump for the Pacers, and maybe the biggest step in them being able to not only compete late in games, but come away with wins. Lavoy Allen as well has proven to be a big positive for Indiana as the season has gotten underway, scoring six points and grabbing seven boards, but continuing to be involved in big plays that work past his stat line.
Chris Copeland would once again lead the Pacers in scoring with 17 points, including three three pointers. Donald Sloan also had three threes himself, leading to 15 points. Off the bench, A.J. Price followed up his 22 point effort against the Jazz with seven points on 13 shots. With plenty of debate on what Indiana should do with Price, he didn't make much of a case on his 2-13 shooting night.
Perhaps the biggest swing of the game was Indiana's ability to close quarters strong, while doing their part to all but shut out Miami late in quarters. The Pacers outscored Miami 22-4 in the final three minutes of the second, third, and fourth quarters, holding the Heat to 1-9 shooting with five turnovers. Mario Chalmers alone had three in the final three minutes of the final period.
Indiana has finally started seeing fruits for their efforts, and will look to continue on the winning path when they kick off their fourth back-to-back of November on Friday at home against the Denver Nuggets.