The Miami Heat are two-time reigning NBA champions for a reason. Despite being far from their best, they got a critical 87-83 road win in Game 2 Tuesday night against the Indiana Pacers.
As ESPN's Marc Stein tweeted, this is exactly the kind of game that the Los Angeles Lakers would find a way to win when they were pursuing a three-peat in 2002:
This is one of those games that the Shaq & Kobe threepeating Lakers always looked like they'd lose and found a way to win. Your turn, LeBron— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 21, 2014
As noted by ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh, the duo were directly involved in 28 straight second half points for Miami:
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have scored or assisted on the Heat's last 28 points.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) May 21, 2014
ESPN Stats & Info also pointed out how much James and Wade meant for the Heat in the final frame:
LeBron James has 11 of his 21 points in 4th quarter. Dwyane Wade is 4 for 4 in 4th quarter from field— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 21, 2014
For LeBron, it was a major turnaround from the level at which he'd been playing for the first three quarters.
Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald made the comment that James looked out of it mentally:
LeBron's brain is somewhere else right now.— Joseph Goodman (@JoeGoodmanJr) May 21, 2014
ESPN.com's Amin Elhassan wondered if LBJ was suffering from some undisclosed health issue:
You know what LeBron looks like? Like someone who's suffered a concussion and trying to play through it. Did he get hit in the head tonight?— Amin Elhassan (@AminESPN) May 21, 2014
Wade scored 23 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out five assists on the night, while James added 22 points, seven rebounds and six assists of his own.
Chris Andersen and Norris Cole can't be overlooked, either. They both contributed great minutes off the bench, with Andersen grabbing 12 rebounds and Cole scoring 11 points. Both players were especially vital on the defensive end. They combined to have a plus-minus rating of plus-39.
James' re-emgergence in the fourth was in stark contrast to the continued struggles of Paul George. The Pacers star was absolutely brutal in the first half, shooting 1-of-11:
Paul George was 1 for 11 from field ... he wasn't the only Pacers player with a rough 1st half pic.twitter.com/Udlyi6VVFJ— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 21, 2014
George only attempted five shots in the second half, eventually finishing with 14 points on 4-of-16 shooting. Both Howard Bryant and Jason Whitlock of ESPN questioned whether the Indiana forward could elevate to where his team needs him:
2 superstars vs zero superstars. Paul George ain't ready to wear the crown. He don't want it.— Jason Whitlock (@WhitlockJason) May 21, 2014
Star vs. Star time and LBJ is burying Paul George— Howard Bryant (@hbryant42) May 21, 2014
Lance Stephenson did his best to make up for his struggling teammate, leading all scorers with 25 points. Roy Hibbert also had a double-double, with 12 points and 13 rebounds, but it wasn't enough to overcome the Heat's irrepressible star combo.
The Pacers couldn't have asked for a better opening few minutes, as they started out the game hot. They were riding the momentum from their Game 1 win in addition to the raucous Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Before Game 2, head coach Frank Vogel commented on how much confidence matted to the team, per Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star:
I'd say most of (the struggles) were probably psychological, mental. It was about confidence, about feeling good about what role you're in, know what the team identity is. That's where I had my focus in trying to stabilize things in my guys' minds.
Honestly, it's as much about teaching the fundamentals, getting back to basics and making sure all the things that go into winning basketball are executed on the court. When that happens, all the mental stuff and the confidence comes. Guys have got to be comfortable and confident in their roles. In tough times, you have to make sure everybody understands that.
That swagger looked to have returned on Tuesday night.
Indiana got ahead 20-12 with three minutes and 20 seconds to go in the first quarter, but that's about when the offense started drying up. The Heat went on an 8-1 run to close out the first frame and close the gap to one point 21-20.
Miami continued stifling the Pacers offense into the second quarter, eventually grabbing a 41-37 lead.
NBA.com's John Schuhmann tracked Indiana's first-half regression:
Pacers scored 20 points on their first 16 possessions of the game. Then 17 on their last 25.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) May 21, 2014
The Heat weren't playing particularly well, either, largely because of LeBron's lackluster performance in the first half. He wasn't shooting the ball well and his contributions on the defensive end weren't making up for that.
Haberstroh thought James was putting together one of the worst defensive outings in his spectacular career:
One of the worst halves I've seen LeBron play defensively. Box score says otherwise.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) May 21, 2014
Luckily for the Heat, Wade was there to shoulder the load and carry Miami just enough. Bleacher Report's Ethan J. Skolnick and ESPN's Skip Bayless both praised his play across the first two quarters:
Dwyane Wade has been the Heat's best player in the first 5-plus quarters of this series, and it hasn't been close.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) May 21, 2014
As I always say, the Heat will go as far as DWade carries them. 13 big first-half, series-turning points while LeBron concentrated on D.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) May 21, 2014
Despite everything that went wrong for Miami, it held a 41-37 halftime lead. However, NBA on ESPN tweeted out how much of the Heat's first-half offense was dependent on Wade:
Being so reliant on one player can lead to trouble, and that's what happened to the Heat in the second half, when D-Wade went on a massive scoring drought. He went nearly 25 minutes without scoring:
Dwyane Wade went 24 minutes, 43 seconds between points for the Heat— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 21, 2014
Nobody else filled the scoring void, either, which allowed the Pacers back into the game.
Indiana was up at various points in the second half, and it looked like it had finally regained control.
Of course, the Pacers were suffering from the same problem as the Heat, in that they were depending heavily on Stephenson on the offensive end. The Pacers couldn't find the kind of sustained run that would have created enough of a cushion.
The Heat, on the other hand, got key bucket after key bucket in the fourth quarter and eventually took a 76-75 lead with 4:18 to go. They didn't look back from there.
The series moves to Miami for Game 3, scheduled for Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Although the teams are only tied 1-1, you feel that the momentum is shifting firmly to the Heat. They didn't play all that well on Tuesday night, but they found a way to win and wrested away home-court advantage in the process.
Indiana will certainly need a lot more from George. The Pacers can't keep up with Miami if he fails to take his game to the proverbial next level.