The Pacers lost Game 1 mainly due to the fact that once LeBron James and Dwayne Wade got rolling, Indiana had no answers. Their 6-point half-time lead was quickly erased in the third quarter as the league’s two best players combined for 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting. Only 4 of these points came at the line, where James and Wade went 4-for-4 in the quarter.
LeBron would continue his onslaught by dropping another 16 points in the fourth quarter as Miami increasingly took complete control of the game while showing Indiana that it was going to take more than one excellent half of play to knock off the title favorites in their building. Really, LeBron was just amazing in every facet of the game, although some will certainly note that 6 of LeBrons fourth-quarter points came at the line while 4 of Wade’s 6 points in the quarter did. Combined, they shot 10-for-10 from the charity stripe the final period.
Obviously that was a big part of Indiana getting out-scored 25-16 in the fourth.
Of course, had the Pacers made more than 3 of their team’s 8 trips to the free-throw line in the quarter, that certainly would have helped. And ultimately, the second-half free-throw disparity was only 22 to 19 in Miami’s favor. (The Heat shot 10 in the third and 10 in the fourth compared to the Pacers taking 11 in the third and 8 in the fourth.)
So anyone who wants to blame the Pacers second-half performance on Miami getting the benefit of too many calls is just seeing something that isn’t there.
When it comes to the first half, however, the Pacers certainly have a case.
According to a post-game report from ESPN’s Michael Wallace, it was certainly something that most of the team’s players consider a major factor in their loss. They weren’t going to say much about it to the press, however. In fact, ESPN characterized the Pacers’ take as being “loudly mum on foul disparity.”
The postgame theme for Indiana was simple and easy to understand: Keep your mouth shut regarding any feelings on the officiating, and keep your money in your pocket.
They did say a little though despite not wanting to get fined by the league for complaining about the refs, like their coach did even before the series started. Wallace did report Granger saying the following, however.
“I don’t even know if I can comment on that, to tell you the truth,” said Pacers forward Danny Granger, who also struggled through a 1-for-10 shooting effort from the field. “You look down our starting lineup and we had five fouls, five fouls, six fouls, four fouls, four fouls. We all left the game in foul trouble at some point. It changed the way you play. It definitely does. I’ve never been in a situation like that.”
As Granger alludes, foul calls can obviously change the game in ways that don’t have to do solely with scoreboard totals and free points. As Indiana’s shooting guard then power forward then small forward then back-up wing then back-up point guard then starting point guard then center all found themselves in first-half foul trouble, the aggressive, methodical style of basketball they had used to build their lead began to disappear. Coach Frank Vogel was increasingly forced to alter his rotation, and the players began to look tentative and concerned with how the game was being officiated. It seemed as though they changed their play.
Publicly, however, Vogel blamed his team for the problem.
“Our guys are fouling too much,” Vogel said after the game. “We are trying to be aggressive, but you can’t be aggressive and foul unnecessarily. It hurts your rotation.”
I have yet to watch the first half again yet, so I’ll reserve judgement on how just or unjust all the individual foul calls were. For reference, below is the first-half play-by-play with all of each team’s fouls highlighted. In the first quarter, Indiana was whistled for 7 fouls while Miami was called for just 1. Paul George, David West and Granger all ended the period with 2. In the second quarter, Indiana was called for 9 fouls compared to 6 for Miami. (That’s 16 to 7 in Miami’s favor for the half.)
Again, I’ll reserve judgement aside from confirming that the Pacers certainly looked to have gotten jobbed on a few calls. There was some ticky tack stuff that you wouldn’t expect in an NBA game let alone one played in the second round of the playoffs. A few more of the 50/50 calls also seemed to go Miami’s way than one would expect.
None of this is any excuse for coming out and playing the way they did in the second half, of course, but it does make Indiana’s frustration understandable.
More than anything, however, the last sentence in Granger’s quote is what stood out to me: “I’ve never been in a situation like that.”
This reminded me of something Granger said after Game 4 of the Magic series, during which the Pacers lost a 19-point lead in the final 8 minutes of regulation before eventually beating a bad team in overtime. About the raucous crowd in the Amway Center, Danny said the following: “It was a hostile environment — one of the craziest environments I’ve played in.”
Even though the 28-year-old Pacers’ captain is a seven-year NBA veteran, he has neither played in many hostile playoff environments nor played through foul trouble in the playoffs.
This is revealing. And it’s not just him. Lest we forget, many of this team’s key players have very little playoff experience.
This was the first game Granger, Hibbert, George and Collison have ever played in the second round. And while West, George Hill and Leandro Barbosa had already played 29, 25 and 69 playoff games, respectively, they have only played six together (including yesterday). The fact remains that this team, as a collective, and these players, in their current roles on this squad, are very inexperienced in the playoffs.
Foul trouble can be a large impediment to winning. So can surrendering points at the line. And frustration is definitely a challenge that can make even the best player falter.
But in the NBA playoffs, failing to withstand adversity has historically been the biggest hurdle to winning. Well, that and playing against great players. Yesterday, the Pacers faced both. And while LeBron and Wade will continue to be on the Heat’s roster and the way the game is officiated will remain out of their control, they can — in fact must — improve their reaction.
Last night, their reaction was to let the game get away from them.
Sure, the refs didn’t help.
But the guys in the zebra costumes had very little to do with the Pacers shooting 11-for-37 (29.7%) in the second half. It’s difficult to overcome foul trouble and make up points lost at the free-throw line. It is nearly impossible, however, to beat the Heat with an offensive performance like that for the final 24 minutes of the game.