After squeaking by the No. 8 seed Atlanta Hawks in the first round and shakily dispatching the No. 5 seed Washington Wizards in the second round, the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded Indiana Pacers are up against the back-to-back defending champion Miami Heat. And you know what, after just one game they are playing pretty darn well all of a sudden.
Surprising many, the Pacers took down the Heat in a decisive Game 1 win on Sunday afternoon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in a game they led the entire way. Miami has gone 8-1 thus far in the postseason, sweeping the Bobcats in the first round and taking the Nets down in five games in the next round, so the Heat have clearly been on top of their game.
However, against the Pacers two days ago, the mighty Heat suddenly did not look too hot.
Indiana basically destroyed Miami in every statistical category in that game, as Indiana attacked the hoop incessantly and got to the free throw line an astounding 37 times compared to Miami’s 15 attempts. All five Pacers starters scored at least 15 points while just two Heat players — Dwyane Wade and LeBron James — did, demonstrating the Pacers’ scoring balance and the Heat’s relative lack of it.
Indiana shot very well from the field in the game, going 35 for 68 from the field and 8 for 19 from three led by Paul George, who scored a team-high 24 points, David West and Roy Hibbert — 19 points apiece — whose size the Heat just could not deal with.
Wade led the game with 27 points while LeBron scored 25 to go with 10 rebounds. However, only two other Miami players — Chris Andersen and Ray Allen — reached double figures in points.
Now, Indiana is up 1-0 in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals series, and Game Two is tonight in Indianapolis before the series shifts down to Miami for the next two. Should the Pacers win, they would be maintain their homecourt advantage and would have a commanding 2-0 lead over the Heat, who would be backed into a proverbial wall with a loss.
Obviously, beating the Heat is much easier said than done, but the Pacers have proven over the past few years that, of any teams in the East, they are probably the one most likely to be able to dethrone Miami.
Hibbert, whose postseason has been up and down to say the least, was huge in Game One and is certainly an enormous matchup problem for the Heat. The mismatch he creates at the center position opens up opportunities for his others teammates to score, which is why guys like Paul George and David West were able to play so well on Sunday.
Put all of this together, plus Game Two being at home for the Pacers, and you get the Pacers having a decent chance at sweeping the opening games of this series. Doing that would give Indiana an important 2-0 lead that would put all of the pressure on Miami and make this series one for Indiana to win, not for Miami to win.
All the Pacers would have to do is win at least two of the last five games, which is more than reasonable and is probably expected for a team of their caliber.