The Indiana Pacers gave the Miami Heat their best shot in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. Unfortunately for the road team, LeBron James and the Heat narrowly escaped with a 103-102 overtime victory.
James’ late-game heroics trumped Paul George’s big shots when it was all said and done. The two leaders came up huge during crunch time, but James had the last laugh with his buzzer-beating layup.
As well as Indiana played in the first contest, the big topic of the night became Roy Hibbert’s absence on the final play. With the 7’2” center on the bench, James took advantage of an empty painted area and finished in the lane with nothing but space between him and the rim.
If Frank Vogel could do it again, you have to believe he’d put Hibbert near the hoop to at least challenge the game-winning field goal.
But no game has ever been decided by one possession. Both teams played well enough to win, and with overtime, physical play and last-second shots still on our minds, we can believe that Game 2 will live up to its lofty expectations.
Time: Friday, May 24, 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami
Series: Miami 1-0
Game 2 Storyline: How Indiana Bounces Back
Losing a contest the way Indiana did can be far more draining than getting blown out. That sentiment only gets stronger in the playoffs, and the way the Pacers bounce back will speak volumes to their character.
If you’ve watched the Pacers at all during the 2012-13 season, you know they’re not a team to give up.
According to the Associated Press (via ESPN), Vogel believes that his team is “very encouraged” by its performance in Game 1. Forgetting the loss and honing in on what went right is going to be key.
On that same note, Miami knows that it also needs to play better (per the AP report). If Indiana comes into Game 2 feeling more invigorated than hung over, the Heat will have to be at their best to win.
Star Watch: LeBron James
Has it become cliché to call James the best player in the world? If it has, it's for a very good reason.
James made headlines with his late-game execution in Game 1, once again proving that the clutch gene is something you can develop. He didn’t settle for jump shots, he played to his strengths and, just as importantly, he recognized what the defense was willing to give him.
According to ESPN, James is 7-of-16 in his career on potential game-tying and game-winning shots in the final 24 seconds of postseason contests. That’s 43.8 percent shooting in those situations, and the most makes of anybody since James entered the Association.
But as much as everybody will remember the last-second layup that sent the home crowd into a frenzy, you can’t ignore the fact that James had 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in 47 minutes. Paul George played him tightly throughout much of the game, but he’ll have to play more effective defense for the Pacers to win Game 2.
Speaking of George, we’d be remiss not to mention his name in this category. The youngster has established himself as a franchise player and a superstar in the making, and he’s proven he’s capable of hitting big shots when it counts.
The problem for the 23-year-old comes when he is forced to expend too much energy on defense. James is one of the toughest covers in the league, and George has the unfortunate task of keeping up with him, which could tire out George on offense.
Projected Starting Lineups:
Indiana: George Hill, PG; Lance Stephenson, SG; Paul George, SF; David West, PF; Roy Hibbert, C
Injury Report (via CBS Sports)
Mario Chalmers (Shoulder), Questionable for Game 2
Pacers Will Win If…
They take care of the basketball.
In a game of inches, turnovers can sway the result one way or the other. George had the most notable turnover of the contest when he threw the ball to his own bench late in regulation, but the Pacers as a whole turned the ball over 20 times.
They played well enough in Game 1 to take down the defending champs, but those pesky giveaways gave Miami a lift it needed.
In Indiana’s defense, it also forced 20 turnovers. But the Heat proved they can make adjustments after a sloppy Game 1 in its previous series against Chicago. Indiana may not be able to force 20 turnovers again in Game 2.
However, Indiana's defense is going to remain imposing, and if its offense can limits its mistakes, life will be a little bit easier as the series continues.
Heat Will Win If…
They continue to attack the paint.
The Heat scored 60 points in the paint Wednesday night. They shot just 27.8 percent from the three-point line, and while fans in South Beach would like to see that number improve, attacking the rim has to remain a constant.
Miami is shooting just 33.5 percent from deep range during the playoffs. That’s notably better than the Pacers, but it’s a far cry from the 39.6 percent that was the second-best mark in the regular season.
Almost as important as getting to the rim, the Heat must keep Indiana out of the paint. The Pacers scored 48 points of their own in the key, but the bigger story is offensive rebounds.
Indiana collected 17 offensive rebounds in Game 1. The number itself is only one more than what Miami was able to grab, but the bigger theme is that those rebounds put a halt on the runs the Heat were trying to make.
Miami was never able to pull away, and it’s because poor rebounding negated otherwise solid defense. Rebounding has been a problem for Miami throughout 2012-13, and it could give Indiana a lifeline in this series.
When it comes to predicting this outcome, Game 1 is going to influence a lot of opinions. The Pacers played the Heat down to the wire, and they showed that they can compete in a long, grueling series.
That said, we can’t forget that the Heat are still the favorites, and with another game in Miami, it’s possible that Indiana missed out on its one true chance of gaining all momentum.
While both teams can play at a higher level, the Heat appear to be the ones who can boost their game the most. There’s a reason they’ve won 46 of their last 49 contests, and with Ray Allen yet to have an impact, the Pacers have to be ready for an improved Miami showing in Game 2.
What Indiana will look to do, aside from clean up its own execution, is get even more physical. Teams have shown that you can gain a slight edge by bullying the Heat, and that’s the blueprint the Pacers must follow.
Indiana will win games in this series. But with the Heat refocused and playing at home, they will take Game 2.
Heat 98, Pacers 93