Fast breaks from the Pacers’ 87-83 loss to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals Tuesday in Bankers Life Fieldhouse:
>> For three quarters, Lance Stephenson was the best player on the floor. For the 12 minutes that mattered most, however, James and Wade did their usual dance on the Pacers’ hearts, minds and souls.
At the end of the third period, Stephenson’s 23 points matched the combined total of James and Wade and the Pacers held a 63-62 lead. In the fourth, Stephenson scored just two, while James and Wade combined for 22, including Miami’s final 20 of the game. That included all of the points in a 10-0 run that put Miami in front and in control, 82-75, with 2:20 remaining.
“We know they’re great, great players. They’re a great team. They’re the champs. That’s what we expect from those guys because they’ve been there before,” Frank Vogel said. “So we’ve just got to respond. It’s not demoralizing.”
>> Maybe not, but it was physically demanding, even by playoff standards. Four of the five starters played at least 39 minutes, while Stephenson and Paul George both played 43. And four of the five starters left the arena with some kind of malady. George took a knee to the head from Wade when both players dived for a loose ball in the fourth quarter, said he briefly blacked out and finished the game with blurred vision. Hello, NBA concussion protocol. Roy Hibbert (ankle) and Stephenson (knee) both limped off the floor after late tweaks. David West was squinting after taking a finger in the eye. Good thing they have three days off before Game 3 Saturday in Miami.
>> Stephenson tied his postseason career high with 25, adding seven assists and six rebounds, hitting 10 of 17 shots in the process. He was particularly aggressive in the third quarter, scoring 10 as the Pacers pushed the lead to 63-56. “He had a spectacular game,” Vogel said. “There’s no other way to put it. Gives us a big edge. He really delivers and made a lot of big shots and big plays. He was either making a big shot or finding somebody seemingly on every possession during that stretch in the third quarter. He was great.”
George and West both struggled, combining to shoot 10-of-32 and score just 24 points. George missed 10 of his first 11 shots but seemed to be coming alive, hitting 3-pointers late in the third and early in the fourth, the latter giving the Pacers a 73-69, before the collision with Wade. He wouldn’t make another bucket.
>> This bench thing is getting ridiculous. Every year, Larry Bird changes the players. Every year, the result is the same. The bench was outscored 20-9 in Game 2 and it would’ve been worse had Rasual Butler not made a pair of 3-pointers. C.J. Watson and Luis Scola were a combined 1-for-10. Ian Mahinmi did nothing. The reserves have been outscored 46-22 in the series and more importantly have not played well enough to sustain their minutes, thus putting undue strain on the starters to carry a disproportionately heavy load.
>> A hidden key to the game came in the minutes bridging the third and fourth quarters. George’s three put the Pacers up 63-56 with 2:07 left in the third, but Chris Bosh and Norris Cole hit open threes off James feeds to close the period, and Cole hit another early in the fourth, effectively wiping out the momentum it had taken the Pacers most of the second half to build. Cole was given much credit for limiting Stephenson’s scoring opportunities in the fourth quarter by keeping him out of the paint, but it’s also likely fatigue played a role in the fade.
>> This is how slim the margin for error is against the Heat: five bad possessions cost the game. Indiana was up 75-72, but three missed shots and two turnovers later, Miami had a seven-point lead. “When they’ve beaten us, we haven’t been able to handle their pressure,” said West. “I thought we did a good job of dealing with it in spots. But, particularly late, they cranked it up and trapped us … Again, we can’t panic in those moments. I thought we were a little too unsure with the basketball.”
>> This still smells like a long series, but the Pacers definitely let a golden opportunity slip away – and you only get so many against Miami. “We have to go on their floor and take a game the same way they did,” George said. “We gave this one away. … We were in control of this game for about 45 or 44 minutes. We just made some plays down the stretch that cost us.”
>> Among the adjustments the Pacers will have to make for Game 3 is better exploiting Miami’s small lineups. Indiana needs to dominate the boards and the paint to offset the Heat’s quickness and did neither in Game 2.