Even though it was one of 82 games, there's no doubt the Indiana Pacers came through with a big time performance in the face of adversity against the Miami Heat to really help along their goals of being the Eastern Conference's #1 seed. With the Pacers' lead at two games and them sitting on a woeful two game losing streak, a return home proved to be just what Indiana needed in an instant classic against Miami.
The Pacers opened up tonight with a purpose, jumping ahead early 14-8 and pushing their lead to nine points at 21-12 in the first quarter. The Heat, strapped with turnovers, and the Pacers, led by Roy Hibbert, who had 13 first quarter points, gave Indiana plenty of life as they pieced together a tremendous opening quarter. Miami closed the first on a 5-2 run to make it 23-17 heading into the second, where they cut it to four.
Lance Stephenson hit a pair of three pointers to push the lead back to nine as a Heat responded with a 6-0 run. Stephenson's third three of the half gave Indiana a 36-28 advantage with Roy Hibbert eventually pushing Indiana's lead into double figures at 40-30. LeBron James would go on to live at the free throw line to close the half, fueling a 15-4 close for Miami with James shooting six of his 10 first half free throws in the final 2:57 of the half.
The Heat took a 45-44 advantage into the break, shooting 18 first half free throws to Indiana's seven. The officiating in the first half was, at best, bizarre, but much credit deserves to go the officials for continuing their bizarre whistles into the second half. Indiana used an 8-2 run to take a 54-49 advantage early in the third quarter, with a double technical setting up Stephenson and Dwyane Wade with a tech each, though it seemed a stretch to include Stephenson in with Wade's shoving of Stephenson.
Indiana would push their lead to six at 59-53, but a big night from James allowed him to push Miami into another strong close to a quarter, with the Heat rallying behind a 15-2 run to take a commanding 68-61 advantage before Paul George threw in a dunk to cut it to five after three. The Pacers, despite strong play in the second and third quarters, really faltered late in each quarter as Miami outscored Indiana 51-40 in the middle two quarters, putting them in a tough hole heading into the fourth.
George's dunk to end the third opened up two more as part of an 8-2 run that cut the Miami lead to one. George's dunk to make it a 70-69 game was a thing of beauty, with George blowing by James and throwing it down on him as he trailed defensively. James would hit a pair of free throws to make it a 72-69 game, a rescinded flagrant on Luis Scola setting up another James drive towards the basket on the next possession where his elbow caught Hibbert's jaw, sending the big fella to the floor, with him struggling to get up.
Upon review, the officials decided the James foul was flagrant, with Hibbert returning from the locker room to split a pair of free throws as he left the floor again. It was the third such case in the game where a flagrant was reviewed, with Scola's foul on James and Ian Mahinmi wrapping up James both being declared common fouls (no review was issued when Wade wrapped up Hibbert earlier in the game, however).
The game slowed down tremendously, with both teams going on lengthy field goal droughts. Stephenson would break Indiana's 3:31 drought with his first of two fourth quarter field goals as he would follow with a huge layup to cap a 7-0 run by the Pacers. It proved costly as Stephenson turned and jawed with Wade, as Wade's smirk led to Stephenson's ejection on a second technical foul.
Hibbert, Pacers close strong to defeat LeBron, Heat as East's top seed becomes clearer
Indy Cornrows | Mar 27