It was a battle between the two best teams in the Eastern Conference when the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat battled it out. The game had a definite playoff atmosphere because the implications of the game were huge. If Miami won, they would be tied with Indiana in the loss column and their series finale on April 11 could ultimately determine who is number one, and who is number two in the conference. If Indiana won, they would be two games up in the loss column, could not lose a head to head matchup (splitting the series 2-2 at worst), and will most likely win the conference record head-to-head if the teams are tied at the end of the season. The Indiana Pacers are now two full games up after their win over the Miami Heat and in position for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference.
The game was another classic between the two. Indiana set the tone and came out firing in the first quarter, largely due to Roy Hibbert’s 13 points on six for eight shooting. Greg Oden of the Miami Heat was a big story coming into the game as he was expected to guard Roy Hibbert and shut him down. Hibbert won the matchups easily. His 13 points in the first quarter, which turned out to be the majority of his 21 points in the game, were all when Oden was guarding him. The Heat did not match the intensity of the Pacers in the early going and it showed as the score after one was 23-17, Indiana.
The second quarter was different. The Heat came alive half way through and roared back on the heels of LeBron James. With 3:30 left in the half Miami was down 40-30 and both teams were shooting 40 percent. That is when the Heat went on a 15-4 run to end the half and take a 45-44 lead. James either scored or had an assist on all 15 of the Heat’s last points. The momentum had shifted. James was heating up, and after taking Greg Oden out of the game and putting Udonis Haslem on Hibbert, the Pacer’s seven-foot, two-inch center was held in check. It looked like another hard-fought game that Miami was ultimately going to grind out.
The second half was prime Miami Heat versus Indiana Pacers as the two played smash-mouth, intense basketball. Dwyane Wade got into a shoving match with Lance Stephenson. LeBron James was tackled to the ground when he drove to the hoop. Roy Hibbert was elbowed by James later in the game, almost knocking him out, and resulting in a flagrant-one. After scoring a key bucket in the fourth quarter, Lance Stephenson got in Wade’s face unprompted and taunted him; the refs were right there and threw him out of the game. Wade had to leave the game with two minutes to go when he pulled his hamstring chasing down a break-away Evan Turner. There were bodies on the floor, hard fouls, and the intense environment showed both teams understood how vital a win at this stage in the season was.
The last minute and 30 seconds were intense, playoff-like basketball. Mario Chalmers of the Heat turned the ball over with less than 90 seconds to go when he was bumped by David West, thought he was fouled, and stepped out of bounds. Indiana marched down the court and Evan Turner scored a quick layup to put the Pacers up by one. After a LeBron James miss on the next possession, David West got caught in no man’s land and heaved up an uncharacteristic three point shot; he made it. It gave the Pacers a four point lead, but could have changed the outcome of the entire game if he had missed; it was also West’s fourth three pointer made all season. After Chris Bosh missed a three pointer of his own, Miami, down four points and less than 35 seconds to go, decided not to foul and save their final time out. David West ended up missing a jumper on their possession and James grabbed the rebound, pushed the ball down the court and found Bosh, who this time hit his three pointer, cutting Indiana’s lead to one. With 2.9 seconds left the Pacers inbounded the ball to George Hill, an 83 percent free throw shooter, who was immediately fouled. To his own shock, he missed both foul shots and after James grabbed the rebound he called timeout with 2 seconds to go. Down one, Miami inbounded the ball in Indiana territory to James who quickly passed it cross court to a wide open Chris Bosh. He shot a jumper at the buzzer, but it missed. The Indiana Pacers secured their position in the Eastern Conference with a 84-83 win over the Miami Heat, and now find themselves in the driver’s seat for the number one seed.
LeBron James, who scored a game high 38 points, was asked after the game about the last play, but only gave a somber, flat response that he ran the play he was told. An exuberant Paul George, in the opposite locker room, said his team had fun, played like a unit and that is how they always want to play; George had 23 points in the game. Obviously it was a big win for Indiana. Both teams had been playing poorly in the month of March and each needed a jolt; it was Indiana that got it. After the win Indian put themselves squarely on top of the Eastern Conference and have gained some much needed momentum to carry them through to April 11th.
This win gives the Pacers a two game lead in the loss column over the Miami Heat, but it might as well be a three game lead. The two teams meet again in Miami on April 11, and if the trend continues, Miami will win the game as each team has won when playing at home. If the Heat beat them in their next meeting and with the same record, they will have to go to their conference records as a tie breaker. The Pacers are 35-9 and the Heat are 28-14 in conference play; that is a five game lead in the loss column. If Indiana loses five of its remaining conference games it would be an epic collapse and hard to imagine they would still be tied with the Heat. Basically at this point, the way for Miami to get the number one seed in the East is to be up one full game on the Pacers when the season ends.
Beside playoff implications, something else was revealed in the game; how to stop Roy Hibbert. In the first quarter of the game Hibbert went off, setting a career high for most points in the first quarter, 13. Greg Oden was covering him. In the second quarter Udonis Haslem was tasked with taking on Hibbert and did an excellent job, holding Hibbert to only eight points the rest of the game. What Haslem did well was not let Hibbert get the ball close to the basket. Hibbert was the bigger player, but Haslem used his leverage, forcing him to catch the ball outside the paint, and then stood his ground. This left Hibbert to shoot eight to ten foot jumpers, not the close hooks he was getting earlier, which he could not hit. Stopping Hibbert is a tall task, but after watching Haslem shut the big man down, teams around the league are sure to have taken note.
There is still a lot of basketball to be played, but right now the Pacers are in the spot Miami wants. Home court advantage between these two teams has proved paramount as that is the team whom usually ends up winning. The Pacers felt after last year’s Eastern Conference Championship loss to the Heat, that they could have pulled it off if they had home court advantage; they look on their way towards that now. The Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat put on a show for the league, but it is Indiana that got the win and find themselves in the driver’s position for a number one seed over their rivals.
Commentary by Chris Dragicevich