INDIANAPOLIS – To say that it started in October would be wrong. The Indiana Pacers started their attempt to earn home-court advantage over the Miami Heat on June 3, 2013, when the defending champs knocked the Pacers out of the playoffs on Miami’s home floor. This was something that more than bugged the team throughout the offseason, leading to a stellar opening to 2013-14.
Indiana eventually earned that advantage some ten and a half months later, prior to dropping it against these very same Heat on Tuesday during the teams' Game 2 matchup. The Heat downed Indiana by an 87-83 score, grabbing the home-court advantage and tying the series in the process. Scarily, the Miami Heat looked quite a bit like the Miami Heat in the process.
Of course, Atlanta and Washington did the same thing against Indiana during the first two rounds of the playoffs, taking one of the first two contests in Indianapolis to steal the home court. The Pacers, however, didn’t spend all offseason and regular season counting down the days until it got to play the Hawks and Wizards. The Heat are the stated enemy, and the Pacers just wasted 50 weeks worth of buildup in 48 minutes of play on Tuesday night.
Miami earned this. The team withstood two strong Indiana runs in the first and third quarters of Game 2, shifting both starting lineups and rotations before eventually pulling out the win. The Pacers had their missteps, but this was a win the Heat took for themselves.
All-Stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined to either assist or score on each of the team’s 11 fourth-quarter field goals and the squad’s final 25 points as Miami narrowed its attack. The team’s screen-and-roll offense and curls away from the ball led to many good looks from the paint (where the Heat made 16-of-25 looks) and from behind the three-point line (where the Heat shot 40 percent). Indiana’s league-best defense, with that vaunted verticality led by center Roy Hibbert, gave up only 87 points – but the Pacers gave a huge chunk of those points up where they counted the most, near the rim and mostly from behind the corner of the three-point line, the two most efficient shots in the game.
In a playoff quirk, the teams will have three days “off” between now and Saturday’s Game 3, plenty of time to break down game tape (“Even if we win,” LeBron James said following his team’s conquest, “we’re going to break down film as if we lost”) and see where things went wrong.
The Pacers have been a teetering outfit for months, alternating fits of championship-level play with meltdowns against lesser teams or just enough poor play to lose a game they should have won.Game 2 probably falls within the latter category, even given Miami’s brilliance.
The Pacers still had a series of good offensive looks in the first half, while Miami’s screen-and-roll work was less than inspiring during the same term. The Pacers couldn’t help but go away from their leading scorer and playmaker in the second half, though, which enervated the rabid home crowd.
Lance Stephenson finished with a Pacer-best 25 points, six rebounds, and seven assists in the loss, once again electrifying both his team and the crowd with his pell-mell style of play. In the second half, though, with the Pacers badly needing buckets and Paul George (who finished 4-of-16 from the floor) continuing to struggle, Stephenson was moved away from the ball and his comfort zones. Pacers coach Frank Vogel claimed that Lance “looked a little gassed” toward the end of the contest, but Stephenson begged off both fatigue or playcalling as the reason behind Indiana’s defeat
“We just didn’t make shots tonight,” Stephenson said. “I believe in my teammates and we have confidence. I’ve got warriors behind me and we just have to take it to them.”
Those sorts of go-to clichés don’t do much to get the ball moving in the fourth quarter, as the Pacers fell back on old habits and the sort of self-destructive elements that made the earlier contests against Atlanta and Washington so excruciating. Then you toss in James and Wade’s relative ease in getting good looks in the paint, even with Hibbert playing a very good game on both ends, and new wrinkles in the Heat rotation. Wrinkles that don’t bode well for Indiana, even given three days to prepare for them.
After Mario Chalmers left the court after taking a shot to the groin, reserve guard Norris Cole came out to contribute 11 points and zero turnovers in 26 minutes. Lack of execution from the Pacers aided in Stephenson’s second-half demise, but Cole is also to be credited for his defense – and, according to the backup, it was LeBron James who suggested he slide over to guard Stephenson in the second half.
Meanwhile, Chris Andersen continues to be a thorn in Indiana’s side. The reserve big man didn’t start, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra went with the venerable Udonis Haslem in Game 2 over Shane Battier, but Andersen shook all manner of Pacer penetrators in the win. He is now averaging 8.5 points and eight rebounds in just 23 minutes a game in this series, shooting 7-of-11 along the way. And his three blocks don’t do his defensive impact justice. Shades of 2013, when Andersen shot 89 percent from the floor in Miami’s Eastern Conference finals win.
There’s that series again, the one that Indiana lost on the road, compelling it to pay extra attention to a regular season that ended up netting 58 wins and the top seed in the East, also netting them a chance to avenge that 2013 loss on its home floor.
After a Game 1 win that may have been the Pacers’ most impressive of the year, the team was back to glumly staring through its meetings with the media after a loss. Talking up defensive breakdowns, telling reporters that they’re still on the same page, promising that a few days’ worth of game tape and continued trust in each other is all it needs to get back on the track.
The Heat, despite that one-sided loss in Game 1, was never off track. And even with the series-tying win, Heat players were also talking up defensive breakdowns, telling reporters that they’re still on the same page, looking forward to a chance at that game tape, and a chance to continue this run.
“It felt like a playoff game,” Spoelstra concluded after the contest. And he’d be right.
Sadly for Pacer fans, it also felt like a Pacer game. The wrong kind.
- - - - - - -