(Welcome new contributor Ronald Eugene to 8 Points, 9 Seconds. We will hopefully be seeing more excellent recaps and other posts from him in the future. –JW)
Don’t call it a comeback.
For those of you who may have just tuned in for the closing stages of the fourth quarter, the Miami Heat started the game on a 95-92 run, a lead that the Pacers (shockingly) couldn’t surmount in the final five minutes.
In a game that would decide the season series between the Heat and the Pacers (huge for a potential tiebreaker in April, you know), Miami opened up a 41-17 first quarter lead primarily off the strength of Dwyane Wade’s 22 points in the first period. Through the second quarter, however, the bench began to play a key role. At halftime, only four Heat players had scored points. Despite their early woes, the Pacers trailed by just four.
Miami emerged from the locker room, knocking down two quick early buckets that seemed to reassert its dominance. The Pacers still hung tough, however, and when Danny Granger knocked down a three with 8:33 remaining in the third quarter, it was a new game.
Over the next 17 minutes of game time, the lead was never more than a possession either way until Danny Granger missed an open, potentially game-tying three followed by LeBron putting back a miss by former Pacer great (along the same lines as Scott Haskins and Damon Bailey) Erick Dampier to stretch the Heat lead by five with just over three minutes to go.
Giving Miami a two-possession cushion with less than three minutes to go is about as advisable as going to a gentleman’s club with Stephen Jackson. The rest of the game was a formality.
Still, wasn’t what transpired in the first quarter when Miami opened up a 24-point lead in a hurry kind of what we anticipated? Didn’t a lot of basketball fans foresee Miami dominating like the Heat did in the first quarter every single night ever since “taking my talents to South Beach” entered our lexicon in July?
Of course, some of the things that Miami did in this game were beyond even the most outlandish expectations (like Jeff Van Gundy’s 74-win projection). Some of these occurrences included the following: Wade’s ninety-foot pass to LeBron with Manning-like precision, his roof-scraping arc of a shot over Paul George and Chris Bosh’s coast-to-coast drive that included a behind-the-back dribble move that made him look more like Penny Hardaway circa 1995 and less like one of the league’s most overhyped players.
Clearly, there is absolutely no combination of players that Indiana has at its disposal to counter LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Basketball, however, is never played on paper. In reality, the answer (equally shocking) was Tyler Hansbrough, Dahntay Jones, AJ Price, Paul George and Jeff Foster. In fact, the Pacers were +9 in the 17 minutes that Price played but -16 in the 31 minutes played by Darren’s Collison, who didn’t hit his first field goal until the final minute when game was over.
In such a crazy and erratic game, it’s hard to learn anything for certain, but the following is a list of things we do know…
- Tyler Hansbrough just plays hard.
- Miami’s exploitable weakness is its depth. When you have Juwan Howard (who is so old that he used to give Frank Vogel swirlies in high school) on your bench AND one of your starting guards plays 26 minutes and scores two points, that’s probably not good.
- Chris Bosh’s game is about as versatile as a folding chair, and he plays defense about as well as one too.
Recently, there has been talk that perhaps the Pacers are a bad match-up for Miami and that perhaps the Heat would rather have a different opponent in the first round. Clearly, the Heat have the better team and would be a prohibitive favorite in a seven-game series. In a couple of victories this season, however, Miami needed two Herculean efforts (Wade’s 41 and 12 tonight and LeBron’s 14-13-8 a week ago) to turn the Pacers back.
As Lloyd Christmas said in Dumb & Dumber … so you’re telling me there’s a chance!?!?