As has become the case annually in the postseason, the Indiana Pacers seem to amplify their struggles better than any team in the league. That came to light rather predictably, when an early fourth quarter lead suddenly became a double figure deficit, leaving the Pacers to search for answers following a tough Game 1 loss to the Miami Heat.
Those struggles were on display from the tip, as Heat jumped ahead 8-2 out of the gate. The Pacers did well to bounce back, however, by attacking the basket and working their way to the line, eventually building a steady 33-27 lead heading into the second by attempting 12 free throw attempts. In the process, however, they suffered blows to their starting backcourt when Aaron Holiday picked up his third foul in the quarter and Victor Oladipo was sent out of the game after getting poked in the eye.
The bench helped mask their absence for a bit in the second quarter, but as Justin Holiday opened up from three point range, the Pacers began to battle costly turnovers, giving Miami easy scoring opportunities, allowing them to regain the lead halfway through the quarter.
Indiana’s damage control was serviceable, limiting just how far the Heat could stretch their lead in the quarter. Unfortunately, their offense wasn’t. After Holiday’s third three of the quarter tied the game at 48-48, the Pacers missed their next five shots and sprinkled in a pair of turnovers for good measeure.
Miami moved up by six when in the waning seconds of the first half, T.J. Warren picked up a steal, sending an outlet to Malcolm Brogdon for a much needed basket heading into the break.
The Pacers cut the lead to two to open the third quarter, but they would struggle to get the necessary stops to put them over the top. Indiana’s first five scores of the half were all matched or bested by the Heat on the other end, eventually pushing Miami’s lead out to six again before becoming a double figure game halfway through the quarter.
The first back-to-back buckets of the quarter for Indiana came with just under 2:30 on the clock, allowing the Pacers to close the third on a much needed 9-1 run to make it a one point game. With the ball down one, however, there was no discernible offensive play, resulting in a Brogdon heave to end the quarter, Pacers trailing 81-80.
Indiana’s success to end the third carried over into the fourth, eventually breaking through on an excellent drive and dish from T.J. McConnell to JaKarr Sampson to put Indiana ahead 87-85. The lead would be fleeting, however, as Goran Dragic took control against a foul-heavy and thus defensively tentative A. Holiday, dishing, rebounding, and scoring in a 6-0 Heat run to put them ahead by four.
A. Holiday found himself in a favorable position after Bam Adebayo blocked Doug McDermott at the rim, stopping the bleeding temporarily with a three, but Indiana’s all or nothing offense had a difficult time keeping pace with Dragic’s scoring touch. Somehow, someway, the Pacers were still within striking distance, but Jimmy Butler made quick work of that, hitting back-to-back threes and winning a key jump ball against Warren to double the lead up to 12, sealing a 113-101 Game 1 victory for the Heat.
Things really got away from the Pacers once A. Holiday and Oladipo were taken out of the game in separate ways. Holiday’s foul trouble lingered into the fourth quarter and he simply didn’t have the same bite he had early when he was attacking the rim for six first quarter points.
Oladipo’s exit was much the same. While he was 0-2 in ugly fashion shooting the ball, he was effective early at attacking and getting to the rim. The duo combined for six free throws out of Indiana’s 12 in the first quarter. From there, the Pacers had just 10 free throws the remainder of the game as they simply weren’t able to attack the Miami defense effectively.
Brogdon, to his credit, did work his way to the line with consistency, shooting 9-10, but even those trips weren’t coming as easy as they were for Butler, who was 10-12 for half of Miami’s free throws. Outside of that, the offense went as Brogdon himself did in his time as the point guard.
His best stretch as a playmaker came during the third quarter, where he had four of his 10 assists. The inability to get stops limited the damage those plays could do, but it showed that movement can only help Indiana’s offense not get stuck pounding the ball, desperately searching for some kind of mismatch against Adebayo, which didn’t exist.
There was no better example of where players found success in not going head-to-head with the Heat half court defense than with Warren. Warren (along with Brogdon) scored 22 points on 9-18 shooting, including 4-5 from deep. When Warren got the ball while moving, he was a legitimate scoring threat. When the ball was dumped into him in isolation, however, the Heat defense was able to double and triple team him, forcing him into a pass that went to the open man.
His lack of skill as a passer and playmaker limited the damage Indiana could do out of the double teams as Miami was easily able to recover once the ball was out of his hands. That was the biggest drawback to Warren’s game overall outside of Butler being able to close out the game against him. With injuries continuing to mount for Indiana, Warren’s growth within this series will be crucial.
Indiana was able to “play plucky defense and keep things closer than most expected” for much of the game, but that plucky defense was also ineffective in making Miami feel uncomfortable on offense in the second half especially. The same didn’t hold true on the other end, especially in regards to Myles Turner, who had nine points on 4-11 shooting.
Turner had no real flow on the offensive end, struggling to find his rhythm from deep, passing up at least a couple of solid quick trigger opportunities and then throwing it up far too quickly as part of an 0-3 from three night. Even still, he was one of the brightest spots on defense in the second half, even against Adebayo, which is more an indictment on the overall lack of fight from the Pacers as a whole on that side of the ball as the Heat scored 57 second half points.
Off the bench, J. Holiday’s shooting was a notable bright spot, but after nine first half points, he had just two in the second half. McDermott on the other hand struggled to get involved offensively, scoring just three point in the game on 1-4 shooting. Sampson had a double figure outing in his first playoff game, scoring 10 on 5-6 shooting, hitting both of his midrange jumpers, a shot will be there for Sampson if he can knock it down.
Turnovers proved costly for the Pacers on the night. Their 15 turnovers were turned into 23 Miami points while Indiana could only muster up 12 off of nine Heat miscues. Limiting turnovers appeared to be the main focus from Nate McMillan after the game in terms of adjustments moving forward. Where that falls in terms of actual adjustable things is certainly debatable.
Oladipo was questionable to return to the game for the majority of the game, but McMillan spoke with certainty that his return was never truly in play as Oladipo’s vision remained blurry even at halftime. He would head to the hospital after the game for treatment, putting his availability moving forward in some sort of limbo.
Oladipo, as he’s played in the bubble, isn’t necessarily the difference between a series win or a series loss for the Pacers. They’ll have to get a bit more inventive before getting to that point, but to lose a third capable scorer outside of Domantas Sabonis and Jeremy Lamb simply risks dragging the offense into a mire that will only amplify their struggles that much more.
The series will move forward with Game 2 tipping on Thursday at 1 p.m. Eastern.