The start of the second quarter summed up the play from the Indiana Pacers in the first half well. After cutting a first quarter deficit to six points on a pair of Luis Scola free throws, the Pacers were outscored 11-0 over the next three minutes, a stretch the Pacers had five consecutive turnovers and didn't register a until Scola hit a jumper at the 8:21 mark of the quarter.
Indiana would go on to lose the quarter 28-19, trailing by 17 at halftime, and looking downright miserable in a half Miami broke down Indiana's defense with ease. The Heat also did a fantastic job wrangling Indiana into foul trouble. Roy Hibbert exited early in the first half, playing a complete non-factor all night even in his return, picking up his 3rd & 4th fouls, wrapping up a terrible four point, two rebound night.
Indiana didn't miss Hibbert, though they may have missed C.J. Miles, who after a solid start left the game with a left groin injury, not to return. The lack of Miles was notable because despite some of the worst basketball Indiana had played all season through the first 34 minutes, Indiana turned it on in a positive way for the first time all night.
The Pacers scored the final nine points of the third quarter, cutting a 20-point deficit to 11 as part of a 17-2 run that bled into the fourth quarter, drawing Indiana to within five points. Miami pushed the lead back to 10, but ran off another surge, cutting the lead to one on a generous continuation call for George Hill. The call was offset on a David West turnover not called, setting Miami up with a Mario Chalmers layup.
George Hill would drive in for a layup and Dwyane Wade would split a pair of free throws, setting up an 89-87 Miami lead with Indiana ball. After nearly botching the inbounds, Indiana got the ball to Hill, who drove towards the basket, dished out to C.J. Watson who was wide open in the corner. Watson took a step in, and his corner jumper rimmed in and out, sending the Heat into the win column at 89-87.
The loss wound up Indiana's seventh straight, one they deserved despite the rousing fourth quarter comeback. The Pacers shot 41% on the night, upped thanks to their fourth quarter play, also helped along by a Miami team coming back to earth after a big first half. While Indiana was outscored 54-37 in the first half, they outscored Miami 50-35 in the second half, holding the Heat to just 14 points in the fourth quarter.
Without one contributor due to injury (Miles) and another due to being really bad (Hibbert), it limited Indiana's options. That didn't seem to matter in the fourth quarter, not with the play of George Hill in his return. Hill scored seven of his 13 in the fourth quarter, including a pair of big shots late. Hill played a scoring role in the fourth quarter with Donald Sloan entering the game as the point guard, who had four assists in the fourth quarter.
Hill as a scorer and leading option for the Pacers looked like a major late game upgrade over...any other option Indiana has thrown in the situation in hopes of it sticking. If Hill can avoid lingering issues with his injuries to work himself back into his starting role and stay healthy for the rest of the season, his play combined with the Eastern Conference heavy schedule late could push Indiana out of whatever "tank" zone they're in right now, for better or worse that is.
While the return of Hill was a positive tonight, the play of Luis Scola continues to play at an extremely high level off the bench for the Pacers. Scola scored eight of his team high 14 points tonight during Indiana's 17-2 run that cut the lead to six. Scola also had seven rebounds (three offensive) all in 15 minutes of game action. Scola's arguably been Indiana's best player on the season, and he certainly put Indiana in position tonight for the win.
David West struggled shooting at just 5-14, but scored 12 points and grabbed a team high nine boards. C.J. Watson also reached double figures with 13 points, getting to the line six times, converting five trips. Ian Mahinmi played a heavy dosage of minutes with Hibbert deciding to foul just enough so he didn't have to play anymore, coming up with a solid outing of eight points and seven boards, including what looked like a potentially troubling hit to his knee.
On this current road trip, Indiana drops to 0-4, their seventh straight loss overall one off their season high total of eight. The Pacers are two losses from clinching a losing record on the road at 7-19 and have doubled their losses to wins at 15-30. In shoot around, the players continued talking of the postseason, but losses like this are impossible to take on when you're drowning slowly, as the Pacers slip five games behind the Heat.
Of course, the only reason Indiana hasn't drowned themselves on the season is because there are seven teams in the East currently drowning, two of which happen to be in the playoffs right now. Indiana's final opponent on this road trip, the Orlando Magic on Sunday, just gave up a bad loss to New York, who at 8-36, currently have a winning streak longer than any the Pacers have had this season.