Miami played with the languor of a team that thought it might be easy. Indiana played with the tenacity of a team that knew it would not.
Producing one of their sharpest offensive games of the year, the Pacers seized control of Game 1 from the outset and did not relinquish it in cruising to a 107-96 victory over the Heat to open the Eastern Conference Finals.
“It’s a good start to the series, but it’s just a good start,” Frank Vogel said. “That’s all it is.”
The Pacers shot 52 percent overall, 42 percent from the 3-point line, had 23 assists against 12 turnovers, and outscored Miami 29-10 from the free-throw line. Six players scored in double figures, including all five starters with at least 15.
“We’re just being aggressive off the bounce, trying to attack, force help, and then share it,” Vogel said. “It’s a pretty simple plan. It’s not always easiest to execute, but I thought our guys executed pretty well offensively tonight.”
Paul George scored 18 of his 24 in the second half, while David West and Roy Hibbert scored 19 apiece. Lance Stephenson had 17, George Hill 15 and C.J. Watson 11 off the bench.
Each of those, at times, played key roles in either sparking Indiana runs or stopping Miami comeback attempts.
Hill set the tone early, making three quick 3-pointers as the Pacers bolted to a 26-17 lead. Stephenson scored 10 in the second quarter as they pushed it to 55-45 by halftime. George and Hibbert combined for 18 in the third as the lead grew to as many as 19, and six players scored in the fourth quarter as they put it away.
‘We played with a great energy tonight,” George said. “That’s been an area where we lacked this postseason, being consistent with our energy and urgency to start games off. I thought we brought that tonight. We brought a toughness. We brought an edge. We brought an aggression, or we were aggressive on both ends of the floor.
“If a play broke down, we made an extra effort to not, I guess, just take what was available, but we pushed the effort a little bit. At the end of the day, that’s where we were able to really get a good lead on this team. A lot of times, we kind of just take whatever the defense gives us, but I thought George, Lance, myself, David, Roy, we all gave the extra effort to make plays.”
The Pacers were particularly effective in the pick-and-roll game, which has not been their strength. But they exploited Miami’s tendency to trap the ball by quickly working it back to the weak side, constantly catching defenders out of position as they scrambled to rotate.
“They are a strong side team and are going to break two to the ball. With two to the ball you’ve got to move it,” said West. “We were able to get some good looks and be pretty efficient in that regard.
“I just thought our resolve to play our style of ball was where it needed to be and I thought we didn’t back down from their pressure. We know they’re going to pressure and blitz and be aggressive on the ball … I just thought we handled it.”
Dwyane Wade scored 27 and LeBron James 25, but neither had one of those dominant stretches where they took over and changed the course of the game. You know, like what seems to happen every time these teams meet in the playoffs.
No one else was much of a factor. Chris Bosh shot 4-for-12 and missed all five of his 3-pointers. Chris Andersen scored 14 and Ray Allen 12 off the bench, but was unable to exploit an apparent mismatch, which hurt Miami.
Coach Erik Spoelstra used a small lineup much of the game but Vogel did not match down. Though that meant sending West to chase Allen at the 3-point line, it also gave the Pacers a prohibitive size advantage offensively. They pounded it inside most of the second half, hence the free throw disparity. Hibbert alone shot 13 free throws.
After starting Battier in a small lineup, Spoelstra turned to Udonis Haslem to start the second half. Neither lineup was effective, so it remains to be seen how he will re-write the script for Game 2.
“We were very poor on defense,” Battier said. “Our effort and our execution wasn’t there. Any time you have a balanced scoring team, it helps that team out. The ball was flying around, which got our defense flying around. They are a veteran team, a battle tested team, so we’re not surprised.”
Maybe they weren’t surprised, but Miami’s players clearly were not ready. That’s understandable, since the Pacers team that showed up Sunday afternoon had been missing since February.
>> The Pacers were without Evan Turner, who was inactive due to strep throat. Rasual Butler picked up nine minutes in his place but did not score. Vogel said he expects Turner back for Game 2 Tuesday night.
>> Vogel said he planned to keep a close eye on the West-Allen matchup to make sure his power forward isn’t put in a disadvantageous situation. “It’s a concern,” he said. “We don’t want David to run around the 3-point line, especially with a guy that moves that well. They play small. We’re not just going to change our lineup. We’re going to stay who we are. David welcomes that assignment and accepts the challenge.”
>> Miami dropped to 0-3 in series openers on the road in the James era. Of course, the last two times they did so, in the 2011 conference finals against Chicago and the 2012 NBA Finals against Oklahoma City, they bounced back to win the next four games.
>> Spoelstra offered no hints what lineup he’d use for Game 2, but suggested it wasn’t all that important. “Our overall disposition has to be much tougher, much stronger,” he said. “There’s no question about it, regardless of who we have out on the court.”
>> Greg Oden was inactive for Miami but Spoelstra said he has been increasing the level of his workouts in recent weeks and will be re-evaluated at the end of the week. That means Oden might be able to join the fray for Games 3 and 4 in Miami.