Despite the new offensive system, some habits die hard for the Indiana Pacers, including finding ways to win late and win ugly against the Miami Heat. The Pacers needed big plays down the stretch to top the Heat, getting key offensive boards and a big night from Paul George to make it happen on the first of their HIckory themed nights, topping Miami 90-87.
The Hickory Pacers looked sharp early, opening up an early lead thanks in large part to George, but things quickly grew dire as Miami closed the first on an 18-1 run, holding the Pacers without a field goal for the final 6:31 of the first. The Pacers used an 11-1 run of their own late in the second to put them back in position, with the teams tying up 49-49 heading into the break.
The game became a back and forth battle in the second half, but after a double technical assessed to George and Hassan Whiteside, George responded with a pair of big jumpers to break an 80-all tie and give Indiana the lead for good down the stretch. A pair of big offensive rebounds late from Glenn Robinson III and Jordan Hill kept Miami at arm's length as Indiana was able to close out the win with George Hill's "pushed-him-a-little" defense on Dwyane Wade.
The one big loss in the comeback was Rodney Stuckey, who went down with an ankle injury halfway through the second. The Pacers mounted their comeback after Stuckey left, but Stuckey was well on pace for a big night, scoring six points in 10 minutes. Indiana came through in the game without him, but the severity of the injury could cause issues for the Pacers bench.
As it stood, the Pacers bench performed well enough to close the win, getting a double double from Jordan Hill, who had 10 points and 10 boards. Hill's offensive board and put back with 34 seconds remaining pushed Indiana's lead to four, proving big in overcoming Miami's late push on a cutting play by Tyler Johnson, which worked consecutively to help Miami respond to each of Indiana's attempts to close the game.
Glenn Robinson III and Monta Ellis got lost on those plays, but overall, their play, including Robinson's own offensive board that led to a free throw trip and Ellis's ability to set up teammates with eight assists proved positives in helping Indiana play towards the win. On the other end of the spectrum, Chase Budinger looks like he doesn't have a place anywhere on the floor, scoring three points all on free throws.
Myles Turner got perhaps his first real NBA test, and struggled mightily against Chris Bosh, who had no troubles against the rookie, hanging him quickly with three first half fouls. Turner had just two points and two rebounds in 13 minutes of play, looking like a true rookie for what feels like the first time this season. The other bigs for Indiana didn't fair much better.
Lavoy Allen and Ian Mahinmi were a combined 5-12 from the floor, missing gimme after gimme at the rim, though no surprise both played well to their strengths when needed, Mahinmi in particular with three blocks. But Indiana's big rotation is problematic, especially on the offensive end, and there doesn't appear to be anything short of miracle growth by Turner that can solve that.
Paul George needs no help, especially when he can have nights shooting at or above 50% as he did with his 14-27 shooting night tonight. George had 36, his most proficient output since January 24, 2014. George also had 12 rebounds for his third double double of the season. For the first time since his return, there was a real buzz about George's play.
His double technical with Hassan Whiteside, one stemming from a small shove from Whiteside, culminated from a hard screen or two on George, resulted in a pair of ice cold jumpers from George. The Pacers had seven 30-point scorers last season, but George's play on those two buckets had an air Indiana hadn't seen in any of them, proving the difference between a top tier NBA player and a quality player with a hot hand.
George Hill continued his three point tear, shooting 3-4 from deep as part of his 12 points. Hill's three point shooting was the difference in his play tonight, which otherwise was fairly nondescript. For a team that could use a more aggressive Hill, a 12 point, four assist night isn't so much the spark the team needs when Ellis only scores four points, but George's 36 made most of that moot.
Indiana moves to 3-3 on the season, showing an ability to win in an ugly fashion, though for the second straight game the Pacers held an edge on the glass. For a team that will no doubt struggle on rebounding this season, fighting on the glass as they did tonight especially was a key difference maker on a night when both teams shot 36-80 before Wade's final miss.
The Pacers reach .500, but will have their work cut out for them in jumping above .500 as they travel to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers on Sunday afternoon. The game will be the first matchup between Paul George and LeBron James since the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals, and Indiana will need another big showing from George to maximize their chances of moving their win streak to four.