Meaningless as it was, the Indiana Pacers secured “home court” against the Miami Heat with a season finale win. They led nearly the entire way, getting solid minutes from Malcolm Brogdon and the Bench Buds to finish 6-2 in the seeding games in Orlando. Indiana actually only trailed for 14 seconds in this one, using a 15-0 run in the first quarter to take the lead for good.
Indiana’s lead would fluctuate throughout the game, however, often seeing a lead at or around 20 points dip to the low teens through stretches of hot shooting by the Heat or costly turnovers by the Pacers. It ultimately didn’t cost Indiana in the end, however, as they were able to close out strong for the win.
The lone downside in this one came in the form of an apparent neck injury involving Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr. Jones came off a double screen, hitting Goga Bitadze with his shoulder and heading straight to the floor where he had to be carried off on a stretcher. The play itself, though whistled an offensive foul on Bitadze, was nothing out of the ordinary, as Jones simply hit Bitadze with his shoulder as he worked to curl around the screen, making it an especially upsetting injury.
The preliminary news on Jones is encouraging, however. He was experiencing no numbness, which is especially positive given the injury taking place within his shoulder and neck area. The good news didn’t stop there, as the official diagnosis for his injury is a neck strain.
An injury of any kind, much less one as serious as this one, was the one thing both teams were looking to avoid given the only thing this game would determine is which team’s colors would show on the board. Though the home court advantage has been slight at 55%, the Pacers finished seeding play at 4-0 at “home.”
Doug McDermott did speak on it after the game, citing the familiar sounds as something he enjoys about the “home” atmosphere. It worked his favor tonight as he led the Pacers with 23 points on 8-16 shooting. McDermott shot 5-11 from deep, three of those coming in the fourth quarter to help close out the win.
His shooting rhythm, along with Justin Holiday’s, was probably the most important thing to get out of this game and fortunately for Indiana, they got both. Holiday was 3-5 himself, bringing the two shooters to 15 made threes in the last two games. For the game, the Pacers made five extra threes on the same 38 attempts as Miami, which will be an important stat as the teams move forward into their first round matchup.
Rebounding will also be a big focus and Indiana managed to pick up their second straight rebounding win behind a big game from Alize Johnson in his first start. Johnson finished with an 11 point, 17 rebound double double, controlling the glass with seven offensive boards, leading to seven second chance points for the Pacers.
Though probably unlikely, it will be interesting to see whether Nate McMillan and the coaching staff will look to find minutes for Johnson at some point in this series. The rebounding woes have been well-documented and if Johnson is one thing, it is a rebounder. The lone downside to finding minutes for Johnson in that role is the hesitancy he showed in going back up with his offensive boards.
After failing to convert early in the game after two opportunities, he didn’t look for his own shot inside at all. Not a one of Indiana’s seven points off his boards came from him. Three of his four assists did come in those situations, however, but so too did two of his three turnovers. He instead focused his offense from the three point arc, hitting a pair.
Elsewhere, Brogdon was the lone starter to suit up, playing after missing the game against Houston. He finished with 16 points and six assists, shooting well from deep at 4-7. In a “rhythm” game, he did well as did Aaron Holiday, bouncing back from his worst shooting game of the season with a 5-7 outing, going perfect inside the arc, 3-3 in the paint.
Edmond Sumner didn’t quite have the same offensive game he did against Houston, but he did show some of the same explosion, finding his best success inside as well. His highlight play came in the fourth, when as the point guard, he exploded to the basket for a dunk.
T.J. McConnell also continued to play well, scoring eight with eight assists. He also got into some trash talk with Kendrick Nunn, though it’s hard to tell whether or not that did much. Nunn finished with 23, but did require 27 shots to get there. JaKarr Sampson also reached double figures, scoring 10, his first such game of the bubble.
The win gets the Pacers to 45-28 on the season, moving them into the four seed for their upcoming first round series with Miami. That will tip off on Tuesday, starting at 4 p.m. Eastern.