The Pacers wanted their Dec. 10 game vs. the Heat a whole heck of a lot more than Miami did, after falling to the eventual back-to-back champs in the Conference Finals a season ago and being very open with their goals heading into this year’s campaign.
Indiana hasn’t been shy about declaring its desire to finish the season with the top seed heading into the playoffs, and the team similarly made no attempt to disguise their interest in this particular December contest against the Heat, no matter how many games remain in the regular season before the playoff series (plural) that will decide this year’s champion even begin to take place.
Miami’s fast start may have had you believe that things were under control, and that the Pacers were pressing a bit given all they believed was at stake in this early-season-contest. But the third quarter saw Indiana turn things around and gain control, and behind 15 second half points apiece from Paul George and Roy Hibbert, the Pacers improved to 19-3 on the season with a 90-84 victory that continued to propel their belief that they will have what it takes come playoff time to dethrone the defending champs.
If the first quarter was any indication, that may not happen so easily.
Indiana was very vocal before this one in its desire to make a statement by getting this victory, but the Heat players and coaches couldn’t have been less interested in trying to defend the team’s honor in an early-December contest. The on-court action from Miami suggested otherwise, however, at least in the opening frame where LeBron James personally took on the responsibility of guarding George, and shut him down by holding him without a relevant statistic in the game’s first 12 minutes.
George finished scoreless without a rebound or an assist in the opening period, while James opened the game with eight points, five rebounds and two assists in the exact same span.
Indiana came out after halftime and imposed its will for the most part, thanks largely to George and Hibbert as we’ve previously discussed. The reality is that Miami has no answer for what Hibbert brings as currently constructed, which is more than likely the reason the team has brought Greg Oden into the fold, and continues to develop him slowly.
If Oden should be ready to contribute even in the range of 15 minutes per game for Miami in the postseason, that’s a complete game-changer for how these two teams might match up in a seven-game series.
For now, however, Oden is out of the picture, and Hibbert remains the most dominant big man in the Eastern Conference. Miami cannot match up with him on a single-game basis, but may be able to get above-average performances from LeBron, Wade, and/or Bosh to mitigate Hibbert’s impact over a singular 48 minutes.
Tuesday night in Indiana, the Heat simply weren’t up to that challenge.