In the second battle of the season between the two clear leaders of the Eastern Conference, the defending champs showed that they have more than enough talent to come away with a win if given even the smallest of windows to do so.
The Pacers got out to a lead of as many as 15 points in Miami, but thanks the the Heat closing the game on a 12-2 run, they came away with the 97-94 victory that evened the season series at a game apiece.
In the first meeting between these two teams, things played out almost oppositely than they did in this one. Where the Heat started off strong and faded late in the first matchup, they were able to withstand the Pacers’ early assault and put together a late attack of their own that ultimately was the difference.
Indiana did what its done to opponents all season long for much of the first half, and that’s provide a lockdown defensive effort that allows them to gain separation. The Pacers have the league’s top defense in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions, and it was on display early in holding the Heat to just 41 points over the game’s first 24 minutes.
The second half was more of the same, but the fact that Roy Hibbert was only able to play 9:38 over the final two periods due to foul trouble brought on by an unnecessary gamble by his head coach may have played a bigger role in the final outcome than his team would have liked.
Hibbert picked up his fourth foul with the Pacers leading by nine and 9:20 to play in the third quarter. Pacers coach Frank Vogel chose to leave him in the game, apparently not wanting to lose momentum with the second half just barely underway. But it was a shortsighted decision that ultimately proved costly, as Hibbert picked up his fifth foul less than a minute later, which forced him out of action until the final six minutes or so of the game.
By the time he returned, Hibbert was out of rhythm and the Heat had found theirs.
The Pacers stabilized briefly, but the Miami run was coming. And when Chris Bosh hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 92, you just had a feeling that the Heat weren’t going to let this one get away.
A miss from Paul George on the next possession led to a three-on-two fast break, and LeBron James found Ray Allen on the wing for the three in transition that gave Miami the lead for good with just under a minute to play. George had a chance to tie it for the Pacers with four seconds left, but the three-pointer he launched from the top of the arc wasn’t close. Replays showed that LeBron had a hand on George’s waist from behind, but we all know the referees are reluctant to make calls like that with the game hanging in the balance, and in real time it didn’t seem like enough contact to warrant a whistle.
Dwyane Wade had his highest scoring game of the season, and finished with 32 points on 15-of-25 shooting. LeBron had a typically efficient performance with 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, while Paul George (25 points) and David West (23) did the bulk of the damage for the Pacers.
These two teams are clearly the class of the East, and these regular season matchups are simply part of the season-long chess match that would seem to be leading up to an inevitable rematch of last year’s epic seven game playoff series. Indiana had its chances, but all it took was one signature run by the defending champs to put this one in Miami’s win column and remind the Pacers just how difficult it will be to beat the Heat four times in seven games.