The Heat won its next 27 games and 46 of 49.
After letting Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals slip through their fingers, the result of self-inflicted wounds as much as anything Miami did, the Pacers’ objective remains the same, but the challenge has become that much greater.
They must beat Heat four times within the next 11 days, something the rest of the NBA failed to do in the past three-and-a-half months.
The margin for error was used up in Game 1. None remains.
Another loss in Game 2 tonight would not officially rule the Pacers out of this series but, for all practical purposes, the only drama that would remain is how many games it would take the Heat to close it out.
“We know we can play with this basketball team,” Frank Vogel said. “We’ve got to play better. … We’ve got to play a near-perfect game to beat this team.”
What to watch for tonight:
>> Play the possession game
The Pacers outrebounded Miami 43-38 in Game 1, but did not control the boards. In Indiana’s eight postseason wins, their margin has been 14.1. In their five losses, it has been 2.3. It’s clear they need to be dominant in this area to win.
Miami had 16 offensive rebounds and 24 second-chance points. Mix in the 22 points off 20 Indiana turnovers and the Heat racked up 46 points on bonus possessions. Of those turnovers, most were unforced, lost dribbles, bad passes, moving screens, etc.
“At this point, every possession counts and that’s what we’ve got to understand, myself included,” said George, who scored 27 but had six turnovers. “You know, a couple of turnovers that I wish we could take back, I could take back.
“The margin of error is so small at this level, going into Game 2 we’ve just got to improve on that.”
>> Healthy guard play
In two games since returning so quickly from a concussion in the New York series, George Hill has shot 4-for-19 overall, 1-for-8 from the 3-point line. His matchup with Mario Chalmers is one the Pacers need to win to compete with Miami, and Chalmers outscored him 10-5 in Game 1 despite leaving early with a bruised shoulder.
Both Hill (jammed toe) and Chalmers are dealing with injuries, though neither is believed to be major.
Lance Stephenson has been a difference-maker for the Pacers throughout the postseason. In eight wins, he has averaged 11.3 points and shot 52 percent. In five losses, he has averaged 6.8 points and shot 26 percent. He is at his best attacking the basket, not settling for jumpers – he’s 11-for-46 (24 percent) from the 3-point line in the postseason.
Defending Dwyane Wade is a challenge unto itself, but Stephenson has to make himself a threat on the offensive end. The Pacers feed off his energy and aggression that was largely absent in Game 1.
>> X-factors in reserve
Tyler Hansbrough had a nice impact in the third quarter, scoring eight of his 10 points, but Miami’s Chris Andersen hurt the Pacers throughout the night with 16 points on 7-for-7 shooting, five rebounds and three blocks off the bench.
Whether it’s Hansbrough, D.J. Augustin or Sam Young, the Pacers don’t expect big numbers from the second unit but those players must find a way to have an impact. Aside from Andersen, Miami’s reserves combined to shoot 2-for-16 in the opener, 1-for-9 from the 3-point line, and that isn’t likely to continue.
>> How to play the end game
Vogel has been heavily criticized in each of the past two rounds, first for an ill-advised timeout in Game 2 of the New York series that halted his team’s momentum and opened the door for a big run by the Knicks, and then for removing Hibbert in the final minutes of overtime in Game 1 Wednesday night, opening the door for James to make two layups, including the game-winner.
He first acknowledged Hibbert should’ve been on the floor, but then reversed course Thursday and suggested his small lineup was actually the best way to match up with Miami in those end-game situations. That may be, but it didn’t work against the Knicks – who scored five points in 26 seconds to threaten the Pacers’ lead late in Game 6 – and it certainly didn’t work in the opener against the Heat.
When a game, and possibly a season, is on the line, teams need certainty from their decision-makers because indecision breeds chaos. However Vogel decides to play it, he must go all-in – and his players must believe he is making the right choice.