This is the third consecutive postseason where the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers have faced each other. As always, their meetings are about in-game adjustments, lineup changes from game-to-game—a chess match between teams that are often very familiar with one another by the time they get here. So it makes sense that after the Pacers took Game 1 in convincing fashion, we’re all expecting the Heat to punch back tonight.
That’s what happens between these two. A contentious rivalry has blossomed and both sides lob animosity. Before the series, Lance Stephenson vowed to make Dwyane Wade’s knees flare up; Wade responded that the Heat-Pacers matchup was not a rivalry because only one team has won. In Game 1, both Stephenson and Wade were magnificent. With Evan Turner out with strep throat, Stephenson ran point guard for the second unit when the starters rested, and controlled the game in the 41 minutes he was on the court, finishing with 17 points, four rebounds, eight assists and just two turnovers. From time to time, Stephenson will have spurts in the game where he simply takes over. The ball is in his hands for most of the shot clock, and oftentimes his shot selection leaves a lot to be desired. But in Game 1, Stephenson was poised and composed.
He didn’t have a hard time finding his teammates—most of the Pacers eight three-pointers came on wide open looks. And that’s why the Heat ought to be able to put forth a different game tonight. Unlike worrying about what they’ll see out of the erratic Pacers (will Stephenson remain uncharacteristically chill? Can Roy Hibbert put it together in consecutive home games?) Miami knows any title run starts with controlling their own effort on the defensive end. By starting Shane Battier and Chris Bosh as their two big men in the last game, the Heat were over-matched by the presence of West and Hibbert from the tip. That was an Erik Spoelstra move that didn’t exactly have the support of the whole team. It’s likely they’ll go back to starting Udonis Haslem in Game 2.
Through their quest to three-peat it’s been easy to forget that the Heat have stumbled before on their path to the Larry O’Brien trophy. In the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, they lost Game 1 to the Chicago Bulls on the road. They faced a similar Game 2 scenario and responded with four straight victories over the Bulls. If the last few years have shown us anything, it’s that the Heat will respond tonight because that’s what they do. The Pacers threw the opening punch, but if history is any indicator, when properly stung the Heat usually summon up a haymaker.
Follow me on Twitter @steven_lebron