The Pacers gave the Heat all they wanted in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but in the end, the game’s best player — along with some questionable coaching strategy down the stretch — was too much for Indiana to overcome.
LeBron James finished with a triple-double line of 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists, and hit the game-winning layup as time expired in overtime to give the Heat the 103-102 victory.
For most of the game, the Pacers dictated the tempo, and were able to impose their will defensively. It was a physical contest that was defended well by both teams throughout, and the referees called it tight. There were a combined 25 first half turnovers, with only four total fast break points over the first two periods.
David West carried the load offensively for Indiana in the first half with 18 points, and Hibbert was strong inside with 11. Paul George had only two points at the half, but emerged for a superstar-level performance the rest of the way, finishing the game with 27 points.
Miami began to find its offense a bit in the second half, but could never gain much separation. The Heat’s biggest lead was just five, and the Pacers seemed to be able to answer each time Miami made its push.
In a game that was largely a back-and-forth affair throughout, it was perhaps fitting that the teams traded shots at the buzzer to end the fourth quarter and the overtime session.
At the end of regulation, with the Pacers down three with possession and the seconds ticking away, George first passed up a decent look at a three, before getting the ball back from West and rising up to bury the shot from more than 30 feet out to tie the game and send it to the extra frame.
Once we got to overtime, that’s where some questionable rotation decisions from Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel came into play, and had many second-guessing his choices afterward.
In a decision to matchup with the Heat’s small lineup where they were playing Chris Bosh at the five, Vogel removed rim protector Roy Hibbert with a little more than 10 seconds remaining. James seized the opportunity, and once he got the switch and had George Hill defending, he took off toward the rim past Hill for the layup which was far too easy given the time remaining and the game situation.
With the Heat leading by two, George was fouled on a three-point attempt by Dwyane Wade with 2.2 seconds remaining. There was certainly contact, but it was an iffy call at best that the referees usually let slide. George sank all three free throws, putting his team up one.
On the game’s final possession, Vogel once again took Hibbert out of the lineup. The ball was inbounded to James, and George was out of position defensively, so James drove left right by him and to the rim for the uncontested layup as time expired.
Tough one for the Pacers to lose like that, considering how well they played throughout. They won’t be satisfied with any type of moral victory, obviously, but they can at least be assured that they seem to have plenty of favorable matchups in this series that should allow them to compete closely with Miami as they did in Game 1 — a game that undoubtedly, the Pacers feel like they could have won.