The Indiana Pacers know what they gave away on Tuesday night.
Whether the true cause of their crushing 103-102 overtime defeat was Frank Vogel's coaching blunder (more on that later), Paul George's overcommitment or just another dazzling performance by one of the greatest to ever pick up a basketball is moot.
What matters is that the Pacers came within 2.2 seconds of stealing a win on the Miami Heat's home floor, swiping home-court advantage and taking an early series lead in the process, but ultimately couldn't seal the deal (or the paint, rather).
Any fears of those emotional effects carrying over into Game 2, though, can be thrown out the window. Indiana proved to itself (again) that it has the talent to play with the defending champs and knows that its disastrous defensive breakdown on the final possession was far from its only wasted opportunity.
But don't overlook the importance of Miami's wake-up call.
The Heat did not put their best foot forward in Game 1 and still found a way to eke out a crucial victory (via ESPN Stats & Info):
Erik Spoelstra's perimeter shooters went missing in action; his starting center managed just two rebounds in 36 minutes, and his team was often reckless with the basketball. Of course, Miami had a similarly sluggish start after another long layoff in their second-round series with the Chicago Bulls, then silenced the panic alarms with four straight wins to close out the series.
Will Indiana's confidence prove merited when these two teams return to action, or will Miami clean up its execution and take another step up its 16-game title defense ladder?
Time: Friday, May 24, 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami
Series: Heat lead 1-0
Game 2 Key Storyline: Bright Lights, Big City
Neither team found much rhythm in Game 1, and the magnitude of the moment combined with an overzealous officiating crew may have been the cause of that.
The contest was incredibly disjointed. There were a total of 58 personal fouls handed out, as players and observers had a hard time deciphering just how much contact the refs would allow.
Dwyane Wade left the game after picking up his sixth foul for brushing the arm of Paul George on his attempted go-ahead three-point shot with 2.2 seconds left in the extra session. All five Pacers starters racked up at least four fouls a piece, while Norris Cole and Ray Allen collected a total of nine off the bench. Even MVP LeBron James, who embarked on a 254-minute foul-free streak in the regular season, was whistled for five infractions.
But the offensive execution on both ends of the floor was just as inconsistent.
It isn't easy to keep composure when a trip to the NBA Finals is at stake, but the sloppy play in Game 1 bordered on being inexcusable. The teams committed a total of 41 turnovers, and far too many of them were self-inflicted wounds.
The starting and stopping by way of the zebras didn't help matters, but players from both teams were guilty of trying to do to much. Paul George threw a pass to no one in a two-point game with 20 seconds left in regulation. Or George's errant inbounds pass in the closing seconds of overtime that was grabbed by Norris Cole, whose decision to attempt to advance the ball rather than call for a timeout set up Wade's fateful foul on George.
Neither team minds rolling up their sleeves and getting dirty on the defensive end, but clearer heads must prevail on the offensive side to secure a victory on Friday night.
Series Star So Far: LeBron James
The greatest of all-time debates still feel dramatically premature for LeBron James (see: one championship), but there's no arguing about which player is the new standard-setter in the NBA.
Fresh off his fourth MVP award in five years, the King's excellence has been on brilliant display in navigating the Heat to a pair of series wins. But even he had to marvel at his own performance in Game 1, an effort that looked equally dominant on video and in print.
Despite the five fouls, James played a team-high 47 of the game's 53 minutes. And he absolutely made the most of his time on the floor, pouring in 30 points (on 12-of-24 shooting from the field) to go along with his 10 rebounds, 10 assists and three blocks.
His game-winning lefty layup was more than just the icing on the cake; it was his latest entry into the history books (via ESPN Stats & Info):
Projected Starting Lineups
Indiana: George Hill, PG; Lance Stephenson, SG; Paul George, SF; David West, PF; Roy Hibbert, C
Miami: Mario Chalmers*, PG, Dwyane Wade, SG; LeBron James, SF; Udonis Haslem, PF; Chris Bosh, C
Pacers Injury Report (via CBSSports.com)
Danny Granger (knee), out
Heat Injury Report
Mario Chalmers (shoulder), questionable
Pacers Will Win If...
...They stop thinking and start acting.
This isn't solely a dig on Vogel, although his decision to bench Roy Hibbert on the game's final possession is part of the problem. There was a logical strategy behind the move; he wanted a smaller, switching lineup to match up with Miami's quick, versatile lineup.
But once the game plan shifts from keeping one of the league's most intimidating rim protectors to challenge the best slasher in the business in order to contest a potential perimeter jumper—clearly there's been some costly overthinking committed.
The Pacers lost their identity at times in Game 1, forgot what it was that had brought them this far. Indiana can't match Miami's talent man-for-man, so paying attention to the little things becomes a key component of a Pacers' win in this series.
They knew where to attack the Heat offensively. They force-fed the ball to their post players, and Hibbert and David West responded with a combined 45 points on 35 field-goal attempts.
But for a team that prides itself on the defensive end, there were far too many mistakes there. Miami's pick-and-rolls yielded a number of clean drives to the basket. Hibbert did a good job of clogging the middle and stopping some penetration, but his teammates were late to help on his man.
The result was this defensive powerhouse, this team with a commanding size advantage ceding 60 points in the paint and 29 made field goals in the restricted area.
Sharpen the defensive rotations, take care of the basketball and let the system do its job.
Heat Will Win If...
...James keeps his energy level at his highest and his teammates are there when he needs them.
He has the talent to impact the outcome like he did in Game 1 on a nightly basis, but he took his talents to South Beach because of the players that were going to surround him.
He got solid contributions from the other two-thirds of Miami's vaunted Big Three (Dwyane Wade had 19 points on 9-of-15 shooting; Chris Bosh dropped 17 on a 6-of-11 performance). Chris Andersen was nothing short of spectacular (16 points, 7-of-7 from the field, five boards and three blocks in 18 minutes). Mario Chalmers was on his way to a solid night (10 points, 4-of-7) before a bruised shoulder sent him to the sideline after 21 minutes.
But this was far from Miami's best effort.
Norris Cole, whose postseason play had Heat fans clamoring for more minutes in the first two rounds, looked clearly out of his comfort zone (two points, 1-of-4, team-high five turnovers). Shane Battier and Ray Allen continued to struggle with their shots, going a combined 1-of-12 from the field.
Miami struggled to slow Indiana's interior scoring, 48 points, despite Pacers' shooters doing nothing to hold them on the perimeter (Indiana shot 4-of-14 from three). The Heat allowed 17 offensive rebounds, and their 21 turnovers gave the Pacers 18 points.
Despite the league-best 66 regular-season wins or its incredible 27-game winning streak, Miami has struggled with consistently producing 48 minutes of efficient basketball.
A greater sense of urgency without trying to do too much would help the Heat hold serve on their home floor.
The Pacers present a number of problems for the Heat, and those become exaggerated when Miami falls into its frustrating lulls.
But Indiana may have just lost its best chance at stealing home-court advantage with its crunch-time collapse.
The Heat's shooters will awaken sooner than later, and when that happens the Pacers' size advantage is mitigated by Spoelstra's perimeter-oriented, positionless approach. And Spoelstra doesn't even have to wait that long to help turn the tide in the post, as Andersen's clearly deserving of more playing time and could see a minutes boost in Game 2.
Indiana's a team on the rise and has one of the most exciting young players in the league in George.
But Miami's already the cream of the crop and wants nothing more than to add another title to its growing resume.
Heat 104, Pacers 95