Pacers win their biggest game of the season to all but secure playoff berth

The Indiana Pacers have defeated the Miami Heat in the most important game of the season.
Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers
Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers / Dylan Buell/GettyImages

The Indiana Pacers have done it. They showed up when it mattered most and now they're back in control.

It's hard to overstate how important Sunday's matchup against the Miami Heat was. Going into this game, Indiana was in dire need of separation from the Heat and Philadelphia 76ers. With Joel Embiid returning for Philly and Miami picking up their play along with the impending return of Tyler Herro, it was do-or-die for the Pacers, who dropped plenty of winnable games to get themselves into this situation, including one last Wednesday to the Brooklyn Nets.

After a win on Friday to the Oklahoma City Thunder, all hands were on deck for Sunday. Thankfully, the Pacers would be with Tyrese Haliburton, who was initially listed as questionable due to back pain.

This was the most important Pacers game of the season and maybe of the last four years, so it was very important for Indiana to come out of the gates strong, which they did. After a dominant first half on both ends, with Indiana shooting 55% from the field and scoring 63 points while holding Miami to only 46 points on 40% shooting and 12% from deep, it seemed like Indiana had the win in the bag, thanks in part due to 14 points from TJ McConnell. After all, very few teams come back from 17-point leads, much less after shooting as badly as the Heat did in the first half.

Unfortunately, Miami still had something left in the tank. After cutting the lead to 13 after the third quarter, Miami came out the gates firing in the fourth, playing like their season was on the line. With Indiana's lead cut to as little as two points with three minutes left, Tyrese Haliburton made a layup to bring the lead back to four, after which Aaron Nesmith hit a pair of free throws to bring it to six. After Caleb Martin answered with a layup, Pascal Siakam scored a crucial And-1 and hit the free throw to increase the lead to seven.

After a few more momentum switches, Siakam fouled Tyler Herro on a three-pointer with 23 seconds left and Indiana up five. After Herro made all three free throws and Myles Turner made two of his free throws on the other end, Herro hit another clutch shot, this one being a deep three from 28 feet to bring Miami within one.

Aaron Nesmith made his free throws shortly after, and Andrew Nembhard committed a take foul on Herro. After Herro made the first free throw, he attempted to miss the second one on purpose to get a chance to tie or take the lead, but Kevin Love was called for a lane violation. This gave Indiana the ball up two points with four seconds left and effectively sealed the game.

Once again, this was the most important game of the season, and Indiana had to deliver. The Pacers have been known to step up their play against good teams this season, and Sunday was no exception. Despite letting Miami get back into it late, Indiana kept some momentum and ultimately, Miami's comeback efforts were not enough to get the job done.

This win puts Indiana in a very favorable position. With only three games left in their season, three left in Philadelphia's season, and four left in Miami's season, Indiana has the momentum and holds the tiebreaker over both of these teams after the win put the Pacers over Miami 2-1 in the season series.

This means that barring an awful collapse and surge by one of the lower teams, the Pacers can look forward to at least the sixth seed and a playoff berth without having to worry about the Play-In Tournament, which they have been trying to avoid this entire time.

Currently, Indiana would face Orlando in the Play-In if the season ended today, but with the Magic and Knicks only a game and a half ahead of Indiana, and Cleveland only one game ahead, it is very possible that we can see the Indiana Pacers finish ahead of sixth, with a third-seed finish being unlikely but very much within the realm of possibility.

Of course, this does not mean the Pacers can lose the remaining three games of the season without consequences. These final three games are very important, not only to test the Pacers for the playoffs but to make sure they get there in the first place, with a 1.5-game lead and one-game lead not being very large and very easy to come back from.

The Pacers have to take care of business the rest of the way, with two games against lottery teams and one against a potential first-round opponent coming up. Friday's game against Cleveland is very important, as the Pacers are up 2-1 in the season series against the Cavaliers and need one more win to earn the tiebreaker there as well.


The Pacers' win over the Heat does wonders for their seeding and tiebreaker issues, but the job is not done. After the high of winning the most important game in the last four years of the team's existence, Indiana needs to do three words that have haunted them for too long: take care of business.