The Indiana Pacers got off to a fast start, opening the game with a 7-0 run and never looking back as they easily knocked off the Miami Heat 107-96 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
It was a true team effort from the Pacers, who got 15-plus points from each of their starters and controlled the game from start to finish. LeBron James (25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists) and Dwyane Wade (27 points) paced the Heat, but they could not find much consistency from anyone else as Indiana slowed down the normally torrid pace of the Miami offense.
The Heat did themselves no favors in this one, opening up the game with four turnovers in the first six minutes after averaging just 10 per game all playoffs. The Pacers exacerbated the problem by going 11-for-19 from the field in the first quarter, including 11 points from George Hill on a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc.
The Pacers benefitted from some outstanding work inside from David West, who continues to be perhaps the most vital cog in their offense. He does so much for Indiana: he scores from anywhere 18 feet and in, fights for rebounds, and is an outstanding passer. He’s the guy they can count on to do the dirty work in the paint, and plays such as this one exemplify what he means to the Pacers’ offense:
We also saw a very confident Lance Stephenson in the second quarter, which is saying something given Lance’s proclivity for shooting at any moment and from any spot on the floor. He scored 10 points in the second quarter on 5-for-6 shooting, doing much of his work with the second unit. We got to see both the good (he scored) and bad (forgot he has teammates) sides of Lance on one particular play, where he decided to play hero ball and take LeBron one on one:
The only time Miami serious threatened was at the end of the third quarter. After Indiana had simply grinded in the halfcourt offense and worked their lead up to as much as 18, an 8-0 run by the Heat cut it to single digits. Paul George, who had an outstanding second half, then worked the clock down and nailed this tough floater for the two most important of his 24 points:
The Heat never seriously threatened again, with Mario Chalmers’ idiotic flagrant foul on C.J. Watson effectively ending the game.
This was a great victory for the Pacers not just because of the fact that they won, but also how they won it. They were patient, played their game, and executed with tremendous precision. They hit their shots (22-for-37 in the first half), got Miami in foul trouble (they attempted 37 free throws to the Heat’s 15), and effectively passed the ball all over the floor (23 assists on 35 made baskets).
For the Heat, it’s a disappointing but not disastrous result. Chris Bosh will not likely score just nine points and go 0-for-5 on threes again, and they’ll certainly find a way to limit the all-encompassing threat of West. And, really, if they can win Game 2 then they will still have seized home court advantage in the series. It’s a veteran team that is incredibly poised, so in the grand scheme of things this loss won’t mean much.
Game 2 is Tuesday night in Indiana, and the team that imposes its stylistic will on the game will almost certainly be the victor. On this day, that team was the Indiana Pacers.
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