Post-Game Grades: Indiana Comes Up Just Short in Miami

paul george heat

In the very early going, this one looked like it was destined to go Miami’s way. Indiana was turned the ball over at an alarming rate in a bevy of embarrassing ways. The Heat were getting the type of easy, run-out buckets that usually seal the fate of their opponents. Moreover, they weren’t even having to take risky shots from the perimeter; their first 14 points all came in the paint.

Oddly enough, however, this didn’t give them much of an advantage.

The Pacers stayed right there, and in fact pulled ahead. Hibbert got in some foul trouble (two in the first quarter), but so did Chris Bosh and LeBron James (two apiece in the opening period) so the trade off seemed like it might be worth it.

With the turnovers under control, half their shots falling, and Miami getting a grand total of zero combined points from the free-throw line, three-point arc and offensive glass, Indiana was looking good.

They took a 26-22 lead into the second quarter. Better still, the bench extended that advantage as Luis Scola and Rasual Butler added some firepower off the bench. LeBron and Dwyane Wade continued to make plays for Miami, but no other Heat players looked threatening while Paul George and George Hill signed their names to the long list of Pacers who were contributing to this potential upset.

All looked wonderful.

But after the break, Hibbert soon picked up his fourth foul. It didn’t seem like a big blow, as Indiana was in control with an 11-point lead and Ian Mahinmi had played adequately earlier while Roy rested in foul trouble.

But instead of telling the big guy to take a seat, Frank Vogel kept him in the game. You could clearly see him look towards his team and point to his head soon after, seeming to let Hibbert know that he had to play smart now and avoid picking up a fifth foul. Roy ignored that warning and picked up that fifth foul seconds later. So it was off to the bench, where he would stew for the next 14 minutes of game action.

Miami shot 8-for-13 (61.5%) over the final 8 minutes of the third, not erasing Indiana’s lead but carving a big chunk out of it and settling into a comfort zone. They made 5-of-6 shots in the paint in the period while Hibbert sat out.

Here is how Miami shot during that stretch.

hibbert rest

Fortunately for the Pacers, David West and George had it going. Each played the entire quarter, as West abused Miami’s “power” forwards while Paul George hit a pair of threes and some points from the line. There wasn’t much in the way of complex offense or clever sets; this was just two guys exploiting advantages and defensive weaknesses to make plays.

Damage had been done though.

The Heat’s offense was vibing, and it was starting to feel much more like a game from the Eastern Conference Finals that could go either way rather than one that the away team was in control of. Then it began to feel like the Heat had an edge, especially as LeBron started rolling and invigorated the crowd when he left Scola standing still on his way to a ferocious dunk at the rim.

But you have to give the Pacers credit. They didn’t yield completely, even as their rim protector sat on the sidelines. They dug in and started to again play high level defense as the deciding quarter began. On the other end, sloppiest began to re-rear its ugly head in the form of turnovers, but even if they weren’t playing well, they were playing well enough to steal one, even in Florida, even as the game increasingly grew more chaotic and frenzied.

The bad news was that Wade kept up the consistent scoring he had brought his team all night, adding 9 points in the fourth. He was measured and selective most of the night while attacking but made the most of the opportunities he found in the defense. Especially in transition, which Miami was able to create even late when the game normally slows down. On several occasions, they were able to break out for easy points.

Despite all this, Indiana led with two minutes to go. 92-89.

Miami would hit two more shots, a three from Chris Bosh in the half court as West left his man to double LeBron and another triple from Ray Allen on the break. Each was devastating and caused the building to erupt in ways you rarely see before Christmas in this league.

For the Pacers, there would be no more hoops. West missed a short and easy (for-him) jumper after some nice ball-sharing, George salvaged an awful offensive set by getting into the lane and missing a difficult (for him) floater that led to the break-out Allen trey, and a miscommunication on a baseline drive-and-kick attempt from George Hill to Paul George ended another possession in a turnover.

It could have gone either way, and with two minutes left, it looked like Indiana should have been the one to tip the scales. But they didn’t make any more plays and the Heat did.

Of course, even following the two threes (each of which can be blamed on defensive breakdowns in one way or another) and the two wasted possessions by Indiana, there was some hope. Allen knocked down a pair of free throws after the Hill turnover, there was still 10 seconds remaining with Indiana down three.

They had time for one last shot. They didn’t get the best of looks, but Paul George rose up to try to tie it anyway. And after watching what he did in the Portland game, he could have been blindfolded and I still wouldn’t have been surprised for him to make it.

He missed. Though he certainly got fouled by LeBron James.

It’s a crappy way for the game to end, but it happens. The Pacers had all the chances in the world to not let something like that impact the game, however, so they still have to blame themselves first and foremost. The offense down the stretch was ineffective and the defense often wasn’t up to par. Maybe George (who played the whole second half) and others were tired. Maybe Miami is just really good. Maybe the whole aura of the game changed after Vogel made the, in retrospect, poor decision to risk a fifth foul on Hibbert in the third.

Regardless, Miami was the better team for the bulk of the final 24 minutes and they were the ones that, perhaps with a bit of help from the refs, were able to outlast their opponents.

The regular season series between the two best teams in the East is now knotted at 1-1.

Hopefully we’ll get to watch these squads square off 7 more times this year.

Because bad play down the stretch or not — bad calls or not — that was fun to watch.

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