Pacers beat the Heat
By Ira Winderman
INDIANAPOLIS -- Before the onslaught began, before the Indiana Pacers pounced with 3-pointers, pummeled with post play, demoralized with depth, flummoxed with free throws, Pacers coach Frank Vogel offered a hint of what might follow.
The desperate team, he said prior to tipoff, always plays as the hungrier team in the playoffs.
This 107-96 Pacers victory Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse over the Miami Heat clearly was the rare Game 1 when desperation preceded the series' opening tip.
"Our overall disposition has to be much stronger, no question about it," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "That's probably us at our worst defensively. And you have to give them credit. They played well and we never got into a rhythm."
With the Pacers having lost at home to start each of their previous series this postseason, and with Indiana having been eliminated by the Heat each of the past two years, it became apparent early this was the Pacers' hunger game.
Did it ever.
Blowing the game open in the third period, when they punished the Heat with an inside attack that led to a procession to the foul line that produced a 19-point lead at one stage, the Pacers moved to a 1-0 lead in these Eastern Conference finals.
Outscoring the Heat 29-10 from the foul line, the Pacers started 6 of 7 on 3-pointers and later made their statements inside, with more than enough to offset 27 points from Dwyane Wade and 25 from LeBron James.
The Heat's lack of hunger? Perhaps that could be explained by what happened the previous two times they had to start a playoff series on the road. Each time they lost the series opener only to come back to win the next four games, including in the 2012 NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. In fact, all four times the Heat previously lost a Game 1 with James on the roster, they have come back to win the series.
"I think we understand they're going to bring an enormous amount of fight in Game 2," Vogel said. "Team that's coming back for Game 2 is the two-time defending champion."
The Heat go into Game 2 aware they have won at least one road game in 14 consecutive playoff series, an NBA record set when they won Game 4 of the second round against Brooklyn.
"Going into Game 2, we'll be more mentally prepared for their actions," James said of the Heat continually playing in scramble mode with their pick-and-roll defense. "We will make adjustments and we will be a better team in Game 2. They took care of business in Game 1 and we'll figure it out going into Game 2."
While the Pacers had exceptional balance, the needed statements from the Pacers came center Roy Hibbert (19 points), power forward David West (19 points) and guard Lance Stephenson (17), who made the most of their matchups. Forward Paul George led the Pacers with 24 points. The Pacers are now 6-0 this postseason when Hibbert scores in double figures.
The Pacers are now 7-1 at home against the Heat over the past two seasons, counting regular season and playoffs.
"It's easy to move on from because we're a team that understands where we lost the game," Wade said. "It's hard to make the correct adjustments when it's going on.
"We're a team that owns up to the things we need to do better. We've got to come and figure it out. We are a confident team. We feel we can win it here, but we're going to have to play a lot better."
It was almost as if the Heat were using the series opener to decipher the Pacers, with Spoelstra staying with Shane Battier as his starting power forward and keeping Udonis Haslem on the bench at the outset, as he did in the previous round against the Brooklyn Nets. But with that approach backfiring early, Spoelstra then opened the second half with Haslem with the starters and Battier on the bench. He remained noncommittal about his lineup for Tuesday's Game 2 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
All the while, Greg Oden, added in the offseason with an eye on countering Hibbert, was inactive for the Heat, seated behind the bench in a suit.
Spoelstra revealed after the game that Oden still is recovering from late-season back spasms, a somewhat surprising revelation considering he was active and in uniform for the first round.
As it was, the Heat offense was somewhat out of sync, with center Chris Bosh, who had led the team in 3-pointers in the postseason, missing all five of his 3-point attempts, in an underwhelming nine-point, two-rebound performance. Bosh is now 3 of 19 on 3-pointers against the Pacers this season, when including the teams' 2-2 regular-season split.
"Chris has a great way of figuring things out as a series goes on," Spoelstra said.
With Bosh off, it allowed the Pacers to stay with their preferred approach of packing the paint defensively, and playing with bigger lineups, even if it meant times when West was chasing Heat guard Ray Allen. Indiana closed with a 38-29 rebounding advantage.
After Tuesday's Game 2, the series shifts to AmericanAirlines Arena for the following two games, starting Saturday. The winner of this series faces the winner of the Western Conference finals series between the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder that opens today.