From the moment the season began in late October, or perhaps even as far back as their Conference Finals loss in seven games to the Heat last May, the goal for the Pacers was simple: Finish this year with the best record in the league, so that homecourt advantage could be on Indiana’s side this time.
Despite the struggles that plagued the Pacers the last two months of the season and into the first two rounds of the playoffs, now that they’re here in the Eastern Conference Finals, they seem to have remembered what it was all for, and at least for one game, regained their swagger.
Indiana controlled Game 1 from the opening tip, and looked like the East’s best team in cruising to a 107-96 victory that felt like anything but the titanic battle many were expecting.
The Pacers were several steps ahead of the Heat in this one, and whether it was due to Indiana finally reaching the moment the team has waited for all season long, or because Miami has yet to truly be tested in these playoffs, the result was lopsided just the same. The Pacers aren’t a great team offensively, but they used an aggressive George Hill to initiate things, and moved the ball with precision to create a balanced attack that saw six players finish in double figures scoring.
Miami’s rotations were slow from the jump, and the Pacers took advantage by shooting better than 60 percent for most of the first half, while knocking down six of their nine attempts from three-point distance through the first two periods.
There isn’t any one player responsible for the loss on the Heat side, as the team defense that has historically played on a string looked more like it was being attempted by a group of players who were on the court together for the very first time. But with that being said, Miami can’t afford many more games like this out of Chris Bosh, who normally provides a backbone for the Heat, but who was exceptionally dismal in this one.
Bosh missed his first two attempts from three-point distance, then was hesitant to pull the trigger on some open looks early — a level of tentativeness that extended to the defensive end of the floor, and one that is extremely uncharacteristic. Bosh finished 4-of-12 from the field, in a game where the Heat were collectively able to shoot better than 51 percent.
Meanwhile, for the Pacers, Lance Stephenson was focused and under control, David West and Paul George were efficient in combining for a 15-of-24 shooting effort, and Roy Hibbert was active as he had been for much of the series against the Wizards, finishing with 19 points and nine rebounds in almost 39 minutes of action.
It’s only one game, of course, but the Pacers accomplished everything they set out to against the defending champs when their season ended in Miami last year. The biggest problem facing Indiana has been a lack of consistency, and that’s sure to be tested against a motivated Heat team in Game 2 that will look to come out with much more intensity to try to gain a split of the first two games in the series.