The Indiana Pacers hung with the Miami Heat in Game 1 of their semifinal series on Sunday afternoon, but faltered in the fourth quarter and at the foul line before losing 95-86.
A tie game after 36 minutes, the Pacers scored just 16 points in the final period as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade took over. The duo attacked the basket, carrying the Heat down the stretch by scoring 22 of the team’s 25 points in the final period.
Chris Bosh was injured in the second quarter and did not return. He was fouled by Roy Hibbert on a left-handed dunk and remained down for a few moments before collecting himself. He checked out after the next possession and was diagnosed with an abdominal strain.
Despite poor offensive execution for most of the second half, the Pacers had multiple opportunities to challenge Miami late thanks to strong defense. They failed to make a field goal over the final five minutes, but it was an uncharacteristically bad game at the foul line that ultimately kept them at arm’s length. Frank Vogel’s team was 20-for-28 (71%) for the game and 3-for-8 over the final 12 minutes.
Miami shot just 40.7% from the field, but grabbed 15 offensive rebounds -- accounting for 31% of their missed shots. With Hibbert on the floor, that shouldn’t happen. A better showing on the defensive glass and fewer fouls should help the center have more of an impact going forward.
Vogel preached “championship-level passing,” hoping to counteract Miami’s strong defensive rotations as the Dallas Mavericks did successfully in last year’s NBA Finals. In the first half, the Pacers did just that. They led 48-42 and were shooting 50% on 11 assists.
Beginning in the third quarter, which the Pacers dominated against the Magic, they struggled from the floor. They finished the game shooting just 40.3% and missed nine straight shots over the final 4:13.
Physical defense and strong ball movement had the Pacers in control of the game early on, but their depth was tested when several players got in foul trouble. In the first half, they delivered. In the second, they didn’t. The bench scored 19 first-half points, but added just 10 to that total after halftime.
Paul George, Danny Granger and David West were all whistled for two fouls in the first quarter, forcing Vogel to go with his second unit. The bench was on the floor to begin the second quarter, while Miami had two starters active.
Having weathered a potential storm in the first half, the fouls accumulated in the third period. George Hill picked up his fifth foul on a boned-headed play near midcourt less than five minutes into the second half and Hibbert was called for his fourth just seconds later.
Hill is one of their two steadying presences (along with West) and Hibbert anchors their defense. George ended up fouling out, while Hill and Hibbert finished one shy of disqualification.
Here are three things that stood out in Game 1 and that will have to be points of emphasis throughout the series:
Vogel said in his postgame press conference that Granger may not have a strong offensive series with James guarding him, but the Pacers need him to be better than he was in this one. He didn’t force many shots, something he is prone to, but was just 1-for-10 from the floor.
Any semblance of an offensive game from their best player, who finished with seven points and didn’t score until the 7:25 mark of the third quarter, would have put Indiana in position to win the game.
Granger also took the worst shot of the game, a three-pointer extremely early in the shot clock with the Heat on a run and leading 76-72 four minutes into the fourth quarter. Miami scored on the next play, giving them six of the first eight points in the period.
His shot will fall with greater regularity on Tuesday night and making James work a little harder on the defense isn’t going to hurt either.
It’s hard to lay all the blame on Hibbert for the points scored against the Pacers in the paint, but he’s going to receive the brunt of it. He played 29 minutes because of foul trouble and tried to help defend two MVP-caliber scorers with those fouls and the game on the line. He blocked just one shot, but did alter several others.
By my count, the Heat attempted 18 of their 25 fourth-quarter shots from inside the painted area. They finished with 52 points in the paint and without a made three-pointer.
Miami attempted just six shots from more than 10 feet in the fourth quarter, taking advantage of the fouls they drew on Indiana earlier in the game. It was as though Erik Spoelstra instructed his troops to jab at the Pacers for the first 36 minutes before attempting the knockout blow late.
Hibbert defended Bosh well before the injury and he was effective on both ends of the floor early. He had 10 points and seven rebounds in the first half, but just seven and four in the second. Vogel needs to make sure the offense runs through Hibbert throughout the game, not just in the first half as it did on Sunday.
It’s no small task, but the Pacers defense would be even better if Granger and George could keep James and Wade in front of them as the series progresses. There were open spaces on the floor for the Heat in the second half that couldn’t be found in the first two quarters.
The Heat outscored the Pacers 18-12 on the fastbreak, not an eye-popping margin, but one that was magnified by squandered opportunities.
George and Leandro Barbosa were the primary offenders, leading a handful of man-advantage fast breaks without drawing the defender or passing the ball. George struggled offensively yet again this postseason. He had three steals and played Wade well (8-for-23 shooting from the floor), but was 1-for-5 from the field and finished with a quiet six points.
If the Pacers are going to challenge the Heat, or perhaps even win this series (Jon Barry prediction be damned), they have to continue to defend well while also converting easy opportunities. Miami played great defense in the fourth quarter, but you could argue that Indiana was better on that end of the floor.
The Heat simply made the tough shots that the Pacers didn’t.