The Indiana Pacers bounced back to form against the rival Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. They pulled off an impressive 107-96 wire-to-wire victory by picking apart Miami’s defense, getting open looks and knocking down the three-ball—finishing 8-of-19 from deep.
If the 2014 NBA postseason has taught us anything, though, it’s that we can’t judge Indy based off one game.
The Pacers played extremely well and deserve credit for doing so, but pundits are still going to be critical until they show up with some sort of consistency.
Throughout 14 postseason games thus far, Indiana has shot 44.8 percent from the field, 38.2 percent from beyond the arc and averaged 92.5 points per game, per NBA.com.
In Game 1 against the Heat, Paul George, Lance Stephenson and Co. shot 51.5 percent from the floor, 42.1 percent from deep and scored 107 points.
The performance prompted Bleacher Report’s Joe Flynn to quip the following via Twitter:
Hmm...still don't think Pacers can win this series. But I could be wrong if they continue to play offense at 250% of their peak level.— Joseph Flynn (@ChinaJoeFlynn) May 18, 2014
B/R’s Jared Zwerling related the shooting barrage to Miami’s series against the Brooklyn Nets with the following tweet:
Even with Indiana hitting all their 3s, Miami is right there. Brooklyn got 1 game from Miami because of 3s. You need more to beat the Heat.— Jared Zwerling (@JaredZwerling) May 18, 2014
If the Pacers can continue sniping threes with the efficiency of Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, they’ll be just fine. Unfortunately for their title hopes, that statistic doesn’t seem sustainable—especially once Miami adjusts by clamping down on defense.
Indiana’s defense is its calling card, but the Heat still managed to shoot 51.3 percent from the field in Game 1 despite an abysmal 6-of-23 showing from long range.
Will the Pacers continue to get enough offense, or will Miami flip the script in Game 2 with a few tweaks?
Seeds: Miami Heat No. 2; Indiana Pacers No. 1
Series: Pacers lead 1-0
Schedule for Series: Game 2, Tuesday, May 20, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN); Game 3, Saturday, May 24, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN); Game 4, Monday, May 26, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN); Game 5*, Wednesday, May 28, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN); Game 6*, Friday, May 30, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN); Game 7*, Sunday, June 1, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
* = If necessary
Key Storyline for Miami Heat
Aside from the aforementioned woes from three-point territory, the Heat actually played a solid game on the offensive end. Chris Bosh struggled (4-of-12), but LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined to shoot 23-of-36 from the field (63.9 percent), finishing with 52 points.
The unusual part about that scoring output was that LBJ and D-Wade combined for just five free-throw attempts. They’ve combined for an average of 14.7 trips to the charity stripe throughout 10 playoff games, so that number should bounce back as long as they keep attacking.
The biggest storyline facing the Heat, though, is defense.
Former Warriors head coach Mark Jackson returned to the ESPN broadcast booth to point out a variety of Miami’s flaws—poor defensive rotations, leaving defensive assignments at inopportune times and losing guys on back cuts to the rim. When the Heat watch the film of Game 1, they’re not going to be pleased.
Erik Spoelstra knows how to inspire his crew, though. So expect the defensive intensity to return with a flurry in Game 2.
If it doesn’t, James, Wade and Co. could return to South Beach down 0-2.
Key Storyline for Indiana Pacers
The Heat will be looking to avenge a Game 1 loss that never seemed to slide out of Indy’s favor. The question now is whether or not the Pacers can manage to match Miami’s intensity.
Indiana came out like gangbusters in Game 1, leaping out to a 7-0 lead and forcing James to commit three turnovers in the first quarter.
It was the perfect start to quell the shaky confidence level of Frank Vogel’s crew, so it will be interesting to see what happens if the opposite narrative plays out.
If the Heat jump out to a hot start in Game 2, can the Pacers weather the storm and fight until the end? Or will we see another blowout like the 23-point shellacking Indy suffered during Game 5 against the Washington Wizards?
The Pacers have usually followed solid performances with lackluster ones during the 2014 postseason. If they aren’t knocking down three-point shots this time around, defense will have to will them to victory at home.
In my complete Eastern Conference Finals preview, each team’s starting point guard—George Hill and Mario Chalmers—were tabbed as the X-factors for this series. I don’t intend to deviate from that analysis after what we saw in Game 1.
During the regular season against Miami (four games), Hill struggled to get anything going offensively. He was essentially a non-factor, averaging 3.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists in those contests.
Apparently the big stage was what the IUPUI product needed. He was the catalyst of Indiana’s hot first-quarter start, draining three treys in the first 12 minutes of action. He finished with 15 points and got to the charity stripe six times.
His decision to attack Miami’s defense early and often got everything going.
Chalmers, meanwhile, didn’t have his best performance. His night was highlighted by an ugly flagrant foul on C.J. Watson in the open court.
The 28-year-old out of Kansas finished with six points on 2-of-9 shooting (1-of-4 from long range). He did have five assists, but that was somewhat negated by four personal fouls and poor defense on Hill.
Indy’s point guard won the positional battle in Game 1, which gave his team the edge. Chalmers needs to pick up his teammates by knocking down shots and playing smart on the defensive end.
Key Matchup: LeBron James vs. Paul George
Stephenson certainly lit a fire under this Eastern Conference rivalry by saying he’d need to, “Run (Wade) around and make his knee flare up or something. Do anything possible so the games will come easier for us,” per Pacers.com’s Mark Montieth.
The matchup between he and Wade is a huge one, but the series will ultimately be decided by the play of two superstars: James and George.
Here’s the head-to-head comparison between the two from Game 1:
Both guys played well and poured stats into the box score, but George’s team came away with the win.
If the 24-year-old out of Fresno State can keep his scoring efficiency elevated, Indiana is going to be a hard team to beat. James must do everything in his power to knock George’s shooting percentage down closer to his season average of 42.4 percent.
As Zwerling noted via Twitter, the Pacers were unconscious from beyond the arc in Game 1 and Miami was still within a competitive range throughout.
Which team will win Game 2?
That’s despite the fact that James (1-of-5), Bosh (0-of-5), Chalmers (1-of-4) and Ray Allen (2-of-6) all contributed to an ice-cold shooting night from distance for the Heat.
Assuming that Indy falls back down to earth offensively, while Miami shoots better than a dreadful 26.1 percent from three, I get the sense that the Spoelstra’s squad is poised to knot this series.
They do not want to head home down 0-2, which gives them extra motivation to steal one away from their home floor.
Add the Pacers’ rampant inconsistency to the mix, as well as the fact that Bosh rarely has two poor outings in a row. Simply put, I’d be surprised if Miami didn’t take care of business with its back against the wall.
Prediction: Heat defeat Pacers 98-89