INDIANAPOLIS -- Forget backs-against-the-wall motivation. Sometimes, you just have to kick the sucker down right from the start.
And so the Indiana Pacers did -- for a game. Can they sustain it? Can they solidify their home court advantage with a Tuesday victory in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference final?
They have paid their penance for earlier playoff indifference, which followed end-of-season lethargy. In dismantling two-time NBA champ Miami 107-96 in Sunday's Game 1, they showed they are steeled from adversity as the Heat aren't. They have done unto the visitors what they should have done to Atlanta and Washington, inferior teams that generated far more drama than was necessary.
No matter. Suddenly Bankers Life Fieldhouse is an advantage again, and this is first-kiss good.
Again, though, comes the big question -- can the Pacers sustain? Can they achieve consistency of effort and execution?
If they can, well, all that talk about the Heat being too good to lose becomes just so much hot air.
“It's a good start to the series,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said, “but that's all it is. We've got to come back and expect a great fight in Game 2.
“The team that is coming back is the two-time defending champions. We understand that they're going to bring an enormous amount of fight in Game 2.”
Sure, but this is what Indiana was built for, and if recent challenges suggested a flawed foundation, well, flaws can be corrected.
So they were.
Indiana scored its most points of the playoffs, the most points Miami has allowed in the postseason. It was 8-for-19 from three-point range while holding the three-point strong Heat to just 6-for-23 beyond the arc. The Pacers' pick-and-roll strategy was a thing of beauty Miami never solved.
“We had a lot of mistakes,” Heat standout LeBron James said, “and they took advantage of it.”
Still, in a best-of-seven series, this was victory without celebration.
“There was nothing to celebrate,” tone-setting guard George Hill said. “It's not like we won a championship. It's just one game. It's still long a series. One game doesn't define anything.
“Yes it's good, but if we lay an egg on Tuesday, this game doesn't mean anything. We'll enjoy it, but our focus is on the next one."
This is the third time the Pacers have played the Heat in the playoffs and the first time they've taken a 1-0 lead. It's also the first time they have won the opening game in this postseason.
“Coach Vogel said he was tired of losing Game 1s,” center Roy Hibbert said. “He wanted us to play our best, give our all. We're going to continue to do that.”
Six Pacers scored in double figures, led by Paul George's 24. The oft-criticized Hibbert once again showed Heat-killer form with 19 points and nine rebounds. Lance Stephenson had 17 points and a postseason-career-high-tying eight assists.
Miami's difference makers -- James and Dwyane Wade -- made no difference even though combining for 52 points, nine assists and 11 rebounds. But those two, plus Chris Bosh, have lost the opening game of a series four times in their four seasons together. They wound up winning all four of those series.
Can they make it 5-for-5?
“They drew first blood,” Wade said. “We've got to figure it out. We are a confident team. We can win here. We have to play a lot better on the defensive end to do that.”
Miami had cruised through the first two rounds, winning eight of nine games, the exception a 104-90 loss at Brooklyn that changed nothing.
This was different. This was Indiana asserting its will from the opening tip. It turned the Heat into the Philadelphia 76ers.
“This was a game we needed,” George said, “and we couldn't let it go.
“It was great. It was fun. This is the one we've been waiting for all year, the chance to battle this team once again.”
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra tried a small lineup, starting Shane Battier and getting little in return.
“That's probably us at our worst defensively," he said. "You have to give them credit. We never got into a rhythm where we could defend without fouling.”
Indiana followed its best first-quarter of the playoffs (a 30-24 lead) with, given the level of competition, perhaps its best second quarter (up 55-45 at halftime).
Hill was hot early (scoring the game's first five points) and Stephenson took over later (10 in the second quarter). By halftime they had combined for 23 points, four assists (all by Stephenson) and five rebounds.
The tone was set, and the 17-2 third-quarter free throw advantage didn't hurt. For those pushing unfair officiating, take a deep breath.
The Pacers won because they were better -- for one game. They have to be better for four.
PACERS 107, HEAT 96
James 11-18 2-2 25, Battier 1-1 0-0 3, Bosh 4-12 1-2 9, Chalmers 2-9 1-2 6, Wade 12-18 2-3 27, R.Allen 4-8 2-2 12, Andersen 6-7 2-2 14, Jones 0-1 0-0 0, Cole 0-3 0-0 0, Haslem 0-1 0-2 0, Douglas 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 40-78 10-15 96.
George 7-13 7-8 24, West 8-11 3-4 19, Hibbert 5-13 9-13 19, G.Hill 3-9 6-6 15, Stephenson 8-12 0-0 17, Scola 1-3 0-0 2, Butler 0-1 0-0 0, Watson 3-4 4-6 11, Mahinmi 0-1 0-0 0, L.Allen 0-0 0-0 0, Copeland 0-1 0-0 0, S.Hill 0-0 0-0 0, Sloan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 35-68 29-37 107.
Miami 24 21 25 26 — 96
Indiana 30 25 28 24 — 107
3-Point Goals—Miami 6-23 (R.Allen 2-6, Battier 1-1, Wade 1-1, Chalmers 1-4, James 1-5, Cole 0-1, Bosh 0-5), Indiana 8-19 (George 3-6, G.Hill 3-7, Watson 1-2, Stephenson 1-2, Butler 0-1, Copeland 0-1). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Miami 39 (James 10), Indiana 45 (Hibbert 9). Assists—Miami 23 (James, Chalmers 5), Indiana 23 (Stephenson 8). Total Fouls—Miami 26, Indiana 15. Technicals—Miami defensive three second. Flagrant Fouls—Chalmers. A—18,165 (18,165).