In the end, the Indiana Pacers needed just two seconds of good defense to prove they could take down the defending champs with a less-than-perfect effort.
They got those two seconds.
The Pacers paid the requisite amount of attention to LeBron James‚ who led all scorers with a dominant 38-point effort, before recovering to bother Bosh's would-be game-winner. They did things right in that final sequence, but it's much more meaningful to note that they managed to win a game in which they did so many things wrong.
The fact that Indiana knocked off the Heat with a messy effort says a great deal about the Pacers' growth. More importantly, it's a sign they've improved enough to have a slightly larger margin for error when they inevitably meet Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals.
That Broken Offense
The Pacers were playing with house money after the first quarter. During that opening span, Roy Hibbert suddenly morphed into an offensive threat on the block, piling up 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting. It was, to say the least, out of the ordinary for the big man.
Pacers 23, Heat 17 at end of first. Hibbert with 13, his highest-scoring first quarter of the season.— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) March 27, 2014
One of Indiana's mistakes was continuing to feed Hibbert as the game wore on. Regression to the mean can be a harsh thing, and it was particularly rough on the Pacers center over the final three periods. He made just one of his final seven shots.
To be fair to the Pacers, it's not like they're brimming with offensive options. In that sense, Hibbert's 15 field-goal attempts are somewhat forgivable. But the fact that they relied on the offensively deficient big man so heavily points to their biggest flaw as a team: There's just no scoring punch on this roster.
Paul George showed off flashes of terrific athleticism, blowing by James for a particularly electric dunk in the fourth quarter, but he finished with just eight makes in 19 attempts.
But that was good enough to win.
Hotheads and Headshots
One of the only efficient offensive threats the Pacers had against Miami was Lance Stephenson, who unfortunately removed his ball movement and 6-of-12 shooting from the equation by getting tossed with 5:01 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Stephenson is a player who thrives on emotion, and his staredown of Dwyane Wade after a nice finish was, to put it kindly, not something that always draws a technical foul. But Stephenson had been chirping and mean-mugging all game. He'd picked up a double-tech in a brief dustup with Wade earlier on, and the officials reacted quickly in handing Stephenson his second technical.
The shooting guard's raw aggression is generally helpful for Indy. He creates havoc (and scoring opportunities for his teammates) by attacking the rim. On a team with so few setup artists, that's valuable. But he's not an emotionally reliable guy, and that hurt Indiana against Miami.
Vogel: “Lance can’t get himself get kicked out of games, he’s too important."— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) March 27, 2014
Worse still, Evan Turner replaced Stephenson down the stretch. Despite trying his best to dribble away possessions in the closing minutes, Turner actually finished a couple of plays at the rim and somehow didn't singlehandedly sink his team.
That was a bullet dodged for Indiana.
A few minutes before Stephenson's ejection, Hibbert was unable to dodge a flying elbow from James.
Roy Hibbert takes the offensive foul from LeBron James, but he's still down on the court. Tried to stand up but went back down to the floor.— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) March 27, 2014
Verticality has long been a friend of Hibbert's, but after getting drilled in the chops, he was horizontal on the hardwood for a good minute or so. James earned a flagrant foul for the play, and Hibbert had to hit the locker room for a few minutes afterward. Despite his brief absence, Indy hung tough.
And it was Hibbert who extended a long arm to obscure Bosh's vision on his final shot attempt.
Stephenson and Hibbert both missed critical chunks of the game down the stretch.
But the Pacers were good enough to win.
When It Almost Fell Apart
So far, we've hit the subtler mistakes and shortcomings that might have sunk previous versions of the Pacers. But George Hill made the most glaring error of all.
With just two seconds remaining and his team ahead by one, Hill went to the foul line. The 83 percent free-throw shooter had a chance to put Indy up by three, effectively negating any chance of the Heat winning the game in regulation.
Instead, he missed both shots.
And that brings us back to where we started: with Indiana needing two seconds of good defense to seal a win they almost didn't deserve. To Hill's great relief, the defense came through.
Hill should buy Hibbert a drink tonight for that close out and Lance should buy Turner 2 for picking up for him...— Brian Geltzeiler (@hoopscritic) March 27, 2014
Despite his gaffe, the Pacers were good enough to win.
It's appropriate that the Pacers' fate came down to defense. After all, they're better stoppers than anyone else in the league. Against almost every opponent, Indiana can turn the ball over, fire off bricks, lose its cool and commit late game errors without fear of losing.
The defense is always there to erase those mistakes.
But the Heat are different than other opponents. They're better. And more than that, they're Indiana's nemesis, the team that has made a habit of eliminating it from postseason play and been nearly impossible to beat without a flawless effort.
In the past, Indiana couldn't simply rely on defense to bail it out. It also needed to play perfect ball in other areas to have any hope of beating Miami. Because the Pacers haven't done that over the entirety of a seven-game series, they haven't yet advanced past Miami in the postseason.
Yes, Indy's defense was good against the Heat on Wednesday. James got loose, but the Pacers forced 18 turnovers and limited the Heat to just 31.6 percent on 19 attempts from long range. But the Pacers weren't so good in a number of other areas.
Perhaps this win is a testament to Indiana's overall maturation, or maybe it's a sign the Heat aren't quite as dangerous as they once were.
Whatever the case, these Pacers are heading into the final few weeks of the season with a three-game edge on Miami for the No. 1 seed in the East and some valuable new knowledge: They don't need to be perfect to beat Miami anymore.
They just need to be good enough to win.