By CHRIS GOFF
Let’s take a quick look at how the Indiana Pacers earned a 97-93 victory over the Miami Heat on Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena in Game 2 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals. The series is tied at one game apiece.
WHY IT HAPPENED: The Pacers’ defense, the best in the league all season, brought home a much-needed win in the biggest game of the year. With LeBron James heating up in the second half and Miami having recovered from an early 12-point hole, the visitors in gold uniforms clamped down with all their might and held the top-seeded Heat to two points (a pair of Chris Bosh free throws) in the final 3 1/2 minutes of the game. George Hill drove to the basket and was fouled by Mario Chalmers with 48 seconds left. Hill calmly made both to give Indiana a 95-93 lead. On the ensuing possession, James threw away a pass that was stolen by David West. The Pacers couldn’t convert and were called for a shot-clock violation. Inbounding with eight seconds left, the Heat found James, who wheeled into the lane but was expertly cut off by Paul George. James’ then turned the ball over once more, with his pass out to the perimeter appearing to be deflected by West. Hill came up with the steal, was fouled and hit two more free throws for the final margin. All night, Miami could do nothing about Roy Hibbert, who scored a playoff career-high 29 points on 10-for-15 shooting and added 10 rebounds. Hill contributed 18 points and five rebounds. George was wonderful on both ends, supplying 22 points and six assists. James finished with a game-high 36 points and eight rebounds but didn’t receive enough help as the Pacers shot 50 percent from the floor.
WHAT WE LEARNED: The Pacers have the ability to make this a long series. Their size, skill and determination gave the Heat fits for a second straight game, and they’ve largely taken Bosh and Dwyane Wade out of their rhythm. James is a four-time MVP, but he can’t beat the Pacers by himself. Meanwhile, whatever potion Indiana’s offense has been drinking needs to be bottled and reproduced, because the Heat, who finished seventh in defensive efficiency, just couldn’t get a foothold. The Pacers lived at the foul line, where they went 26-of-32, and made some huge shots throughout the night. Indiana led 24-12 early after making eight of their first nine shots. Miami pulled to 53-47 at the break as Mike Miller hit a triple at the halftime buzzer. The Pacers proved there were no ill effects from a dispiriting loss in Game 1. They held all of Miami’s supporting cast guys — Chalmers, Ray Allen, Shane Battier — in check, and survived three technical fouls in the first half (Tyler Hansbrough, Sam Young and associate head coach Brian Shaw). Indiana played as well in these two games as they have all season on the road. Now they’ll try to take a lead after three games for the eighth time in their last nine playoff series.
KEY NUMBER: The Pacers limited Miami to 7-of-22 shooting from 3-point range. The Heat, who shot an incredible 40 percent from the arc as a team in the regular season, are 12-of-40 (30 percent) in the series.
TURNING POINT: Miami had the ball and a four-point lead when Bosh missed a 3-pointer with 5 1/2 minutes left. The Pacers then scored five straight to reposition themselves nicely for the stretch run. Lance Stephenson knocked down a 3 from the right wing and Hill found Hibbert underneath for an easy lay-in.
NEXT: The series shifts to Indianapolis for the next two contests. Game 3 is Sunday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.