In position to beat the Miami Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena once again, the Indiana Pacers showed poise in the final minute and finished what they couldn't just two nights earlier.
Roy Hibbert led the way with a playoff career-high 29 points and 10 rebounds and George Hill hit four clutch free throws in the final 48 seconds to break what was a tie game and seal the victory. LeBron James, who was otherworldly as usual, committed back-to-back turnovers in the final minute to taint what had been a stellar performance.
James had 36 points (14-for-20 shooting), eight rebounds, three assists and three steals, but tipped passes (one by David West and another by Hill) doomed the Heat and their superstar down the stretch. LeBron was more efficient than he was in Miami's Game 1 win, but didn't receive as much help from his teammates on Friday night.
Dwyane Wade had 14 points on 14 shots and the perimeter combination of Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Ray Allen and Shane Battier remained cold. The quartet shot 5-for-20, including 1-for-9 from deep. Chris Anderson, a huge contributor in Game 1, had seven points, just three rebounds and was called for five fouls.
The outcome was a perfect storm for the Pacers, who got all but five of their points from their starters and managed to contain the Heat offense by employing a modified Let-Him-Kill-Us defense. Paul George is going to look bad at times on LeBron because he's LeBron, but George did a better job of keeping LeBron in front of him and his teammates helped at all the right times.
Indiana will live with LeBron taking jump shots after watching him attack the rim on Miami's final two possessions of Game 1. They just would prefer he not beat them at the rim or that his teammates catch fire.
By my count, more than half (11) of LeBron's shot attempts came from at least 10 feet out. Nine of those came from at least 20 feet away thanks to George's ability prevent penetration. LeBron attempted (and made) six layups -- three of which were excusable. One came off a turnover in transition, another off a long rebound on a bad three-point miss by Lance Stephenson and another off an offensive rebound.
The biggest takeaway in this game was the Pacers' ability to put the negative behind them. It wouldn't have been altogether surprising if they laid an egg in Game 2 after being thisclose to stealing the first game of the series. In reality, little could change in terms of the execution on the court after 101 minutes and it would be accepted that either team was up 2-0 rather than the series be knotted heading to Indianapolis. They are going toe-to-toe with the defending and presumed champions without flinching.
Hill Returns To Form
George Hill gave the Pacers a much-needed boost after struggling offensively in Game 1. He had 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting and rebounded from three early misses at the foul line to hit the clinching shots down the stretch. He is still having issues getting the basketball down the floor when Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole pressure, but was a little better in that respect.
This was Hill's best effort since Game 4 against the New York Knicks when he had 26 points on just 14 shots in a relatively easy win. Indiana needs him to not only make shots to help space the floor, but also to be more aggressive in general. He is working through a foot issue and is still only 10 days off a concussion, but Hill has to be happy to be heading home to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Hibbert Dominates, Pacers Win
Hibbert responded well to some controversy following Game 1 and turned in a dominant performance in the paint. He was 10-for-15 from the floor because he didn't simply chuck the ball at the basket once he established position. Hibbert instead used his size advantage to gather himself and get an even better look at the rim, often times in the form of a one-handed dunk over shorter opposition.
As he should, Frank Vogel went to West and Hibbert in the paint often. West shot the basketball poorly overall, going 2-for-9 from the field, but the duo combined to shoot 18-for-20 from the foul line. The Heat went 18-for-26 as a team.
It's impossible to ask him to do it alone, but Hibbert's production will go a long way to determining how this series plays out. He has 19 rebounds in the series, which isn't a huge number, but 13 of them have come on the offensive end. Indiana will struggle to score at times and second-change opportunities are a must. It will be interesting to see how Erik Spoelstra looks to neutralize Hibbert going forward.
Like A Bosh
If Hibbert is the key for the Pacers, Chris Bosh is Miami's most important player (not named LeBron James). He has had 17 points in both games, outproducing Dwyane Wade, and his ability to step out to the perimeter has caused Vogel to pop antacids and take Hibbert off the floor in certain situations (I'll leave it at that). He's never been a huge threat on the glass, but as we saw in Game 1 an offensive rebound every now and then can mean a lot to the Heat.
Sir Lance A Lot Tries A Lot
Stephenson has been labeled as the wild card for the Pacers since he erupted in Game 6 against the Knicks, but in reality we are going to get more of the Stephenson we saw here than the one that had 25 points and 10 rebounds on 9-for-13 shooting in a series-clinching win.
One of my favorite games to play when watching the Pacers is 'Stephenson Sequence.' There are always a handful of times during a game when you'll marvel at his amazing play and then horrible decision-making, or vice versa, within the seconds of one another. The most egregious Stephenson Sequences came in the final six minutes.
At the 5:24 mark he made a three (from the same spot he bricked a key one in Game 1) to pull the Pacers to within one after a Miami surge. Huge shot. Roughly a minute later he grabbed a defensive rebound and pushed the ball as he so often does. Instead of pulling the ball out when three Heat defenders got back, he went 1-on-3 and missed.
In a see-saw game with the score tied at 93 and 1:44 left, the Pacers had the ball. George took and missed a three, but Stephenson leaped for and grabbed a key offensive rebound. The Pacers reset their offense, but the possession ended with Stephenson forcing the ball into the paint as Miami crowded. Chris Bosh intercepted the ball with 72 seconds remaining.
Stephenson is talented enough that he can push these Pacers to the next level. That's why the organization has stuck by him. On the other hand, if Wade doesn't miss a 10-foot jumper on the ensuing possession he might have become the scapegoat for another heart-breaking loss.