While the Indiana Pacers ultimately fell to the Miami Heat 112-108, their fight in the final 14 minutes of the game was an encouraging sight. Trailing 87-66 with five minutes in the third quarter, it appeared the Pacers were well on their way to a familiar blowout loss on the second night of a back-to-back, but Indiana closed the third on a 10-4 run, using that momentum to push Miami throughout the fourth.
The Pacers climbed to within two points in the closing seconds, but the Heat converted two rare free throws to put the game out of reach. It capped a win for Miami in which they came up with just enough plays throughout the night to hold off Indiana’s comeback.
In the first half the Pacers started strong, leading 31-26 after one, but a woeful second quarter pushed Indiana behind by 13 at the half. In the first half, the Pacers allowed 38 points in the paint, in part due to four first half fouls from Domantas Sabonis. Already shorthanded up front, the Pacers were forced to rely on Al Jefferson and Thaddeus Young as primary rim protectors, neither offering much resistance to Miami’s layup line to close the half.
Jefferson did play well, however, posting a 12 point, eight rebound night with a pair of blocks. Jefferson shot 5-9 and looked his most involved and, well, vintage as he has in the young season. Young also reached double figures with 14, but on a less-than-efficient 7-17. He also had eight rebounds, including four offensive, while Jefferson had a pair.
On the night, the Pacers had 13 offensive rebounds, eight of those coming in the comeback, as Indiana outscored Miami 15-6 in second chance points. It was one of the few areas in which the Pacers outplayed the Heat, which also included free throw shooting. Ironically, the Heat iced the game on two free throws, finishing just 8-14, but while Indiana outscored Miami 15-8 in free throws, the Pacers continued to struggle at the line, missing six free throws, which in a four point game, is back-breaking.
The Pacers have almost no margin for error and it’s frustrating to see them give away these easy opportunities, because they’re far from guaranteed anywhere else on the floor. Indiana shot 44.8% for the night, but left a lot of points on the floor by shooting just 50% in the paint, this despite scoring 56 and having over half of their attempts inside.
Add in being outscored 16-11 in points off turnovers despite winning the turnover battle and the Pacers have a lot of areas in which they need to clean up if they hope to finish off opponents late and an unforgiving schedule on the horizon will make each mistake a deathblow.
The Pacers did get a pair of big second halves from their trade acquisitions in Victor Oladipo and Sabonis. Oladipo scored 22 of his season high 28 in the second half to help guide the Pacers back while Sabonis pitched in 12 of his 18 after the break as part of a 12 rebound double double effort. It was encouraging that both stepped up their games after poor first halves; Sabonis not only landed a double double, but shot a solid 6-8 from the line, a big step up from his first two outings while Oladipo came up with four steals and hit 4-7 from three point range.
While Indiana has gotten contributions off the bench in the first three games, the play of Lance Stephenson has been a real struggle. Stephenson shot just 2-9 tonight, shooting the Pacers out of possessions and showing very limited court vision. Stephenson’s passing decisions were baffling as he’d prefer find Cory Joseph, quickly covered, or Damien Wilkins, an eager passer himself, instead of dishing to T.J. Leaf, who found himself in good position and would make the most of his limited opportunities to score five on just 2-3 shooting.
All in all, the real fight and energy late to help stage their comeback was encouraging for a team that had a -7.7 scoring margin in second nights of a back-to-backs last season, but the Pacers need to play smarter in order to maximize the very limited roster ability they have. Again, Indiana did not pass well, especially off the bench, dishing just one of the team’s 16 assists while the Heat had 24 as a team, seven coming in their second unit.
The loss drops Indiana to 1-2. They’ll be back in action on the road on Tuesday when they travel north to face the upstart Minnesota Timberwolves.