Prior to Tuesday night’s game in Indiana, players on both the Heat and Pacers knew this was not just another regular season game.
For the first time in three years, the Miami Heat are not a sure pick for the NBA Finals.
With the win, the Pacers improved to 10-0 at home and 19-3 overall on the season. They are now three games ahead of Miami for first place in the Eastern Conference.
The Heat came out hot, outscoring the Pacers 30-17 in the first quarter.
Right from the start, Lebron was playing up on Paul George, and he did not have an answer to the defense.
Miami’s defense was stifling the Pacers as Paul George had only two points and five turnovers in the first half.
Miami would take a seven-point lead into the second half, and that’s when everything would come together for the Pacers.
Suddenly, it was King James who didn't have an answer for the hot Indiana offense.
With 8:15 remaining in the third quarter, Indiana’s George Hill took a pass from Paul George and delivered a huge three-pointer, pulling the Pacers even with the Heat at 55 points apiece.
As the third quarter was winding down, David West found Paul George with a lob pass in the far corner.
With no Heat defenders anywhere near him, George took his time and knocked down his second three-pointer in less than one minute, giving the Pacers their biggest lead of the game.
Hibbert and George combined for 41 of the team’s 90 points. All season long they have been one of the most dangerous duos in the league, and we saw why Tuesday night.
One thing we learned from Tuesday night’s game is that Indiana is deserving of the No. 1 seed right now.
The Pacers have shown that there is finally a team that has a legitimate shot at being the favorite to win it all over the Heat.
Although the season is still young, the Pacers are a complete team. Aside from Hibbert and George, Indiana has reliable starters like David West, who is averaging 13.0 points per game and point guard George Hill, who has always had a good shot selection in this league.
According to NBA.com, the Pacers are averaging 97.7 points per game while allowing only 89.3 to opponents.
This Pacers team is different from the one that was knocked out by the Heat in Game 7 last season, and they have proven it.
The difference is the Pacers are more complete, with another year of experience under their belts with players like George and Hibbert really blossoming in this league and becoming even stronger than they were last year with that experience.
Together, Hibbert and George are averaging 37.7 points per game, according to NBA.com. Last year, that average was 29.3 for the two of them. With more experience and better knowledge on the court, these two have propelled the Pacers to the No. 1 seed in the East.
It was clear that both teams were playing with a purpose last night, and Indiana took the first step toward ultimately defeating the Miami Heat.
While the rest of the teams in the Eastern Conference are all at .500 or worse, we can expect the Heat and Pacers to battle it out for first place all season long.
One thing the Heat have proven is that they can have an answer to both Hibbert and George when they are on the court. That was evident in the first quarter, when George was stymied by the Heat's great defensive effort.
However, the key for Miami is to keep that defense going all game. Once Hibbert and George are on a roll, they have proven that there really is no stopping them.
Again, the season is still young, and anything can happen from now until May or June. However, as long as everyone remains healthy, the Pacers have proven that they deserve the No. 1 seed right now in the East.
If Tuesday night’s game was an indicator of what is to come between these two teams, we could witness one of the greatest matchups of two playoff teams in recent history.