Composed Indiana Pacers Muscle Past Miami Heat
series were not a problem in its fivegame takedown of the perimeter-fixated Nets. Pounding the ball inside, the Pacers shot 17 free throws in the third quarter alone, and by the game’s conclusion, they had taken 22 more than the Heat (37-15).
Game 1 felt far more important to the Pacers, if only to challenge the conviction that they had peaked months ago. What the Pacers were counting on was the adrenaline rush of a rivalry established with Miami over the past two seasons, including last year’s seven-game conference finals. The teams have no great affection for each other. “It will be extremely physical,” Spoelstra said. “Nobody’s going to give anything up, but everybody understands the consequences.”
Without a point guard with superior dribble penetration skills, the Pacers need aggressive, creative play from Stephenson and George. For all the focus on Hibbert, they are an effective team when both are forcing defensive breakdowns and getting the big men involved. “Coach really talked about setting the tone early,” said George Hill, the Pacers’ other starting guard, who, like Hibbert, has pulled off playoff vanishing acts.
But Hill attacked the paint early, and with George off to a quick start with 6 first-quarter points and 5 assists, the Pacers enjoyed a rare 30-point quarter in which they shot 61%. Their ability to get into the lane opened up the 3-point line, where Indiana made six of its first eight attempts and wound up 8 for 19 overall, compared with Miami’s 6 for 23.
Stephenson capped a 55-45 half when he backed James deep into the paint and dropped in a lefty scoop. The Heat rallied to within 11 with enough time to come back in the fourth quarter. But the Pacers kept moving the ball, relying on one another.
Mission accomplished, at least for the moment. Narrative changed. Perception altered. Heat on their heels.
The New York Times
Roy Hibbert (L) drives against Chris Bosh in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals