Considering the fact that the Indiana Pacers staggered into the Playoffs with a 4-6 record and began with a 2-3 record in the first round, you couldn’t be blamed for being skeptical they wouldn’t make it this far.
But here they are.
After reeling out six wins in eight games, they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals and now hold a 1-0 lead against the big bad Miami Heat. And from the look of things, they are back to being the Indiana Pacers we know. Perhaps better.
Indiana posted their Playoff high in points when they dropped 107 points in Game One, which was the highest postseason tally without overtime since Feb. 25 against the L.A. Lakers. The offense was firing on all cylinders as they dished out 23 assists on 35 field goals. So with that kind of team basketball, it’s no surprise they managed to shoot an impressive 51.5 percent from the field.
The most impressive aspect though was how aggressive they were, having attempted a whopping 37 attempts at the foul line. Roy Hibbert and Paul George led the charge with 13 and eight attempts respectively while back-up point guard, C.J. Watson added another six.
George also had it going from the outside (3-6 from three-point range). He beat Shane Battier all ends up and the veteran, who is used to guarding elite scorers, was essentially a passenger as George achieved the Pacers' game high 24 points.
Yet he deflected most of the praise. Instead heaping it on his teammate Lance Stephenson who has been known to be a bit of a live wire at times but provided 8 assists and 17 points on 8-12 shooting.
“He’s been able to control his emotions lately," George said.
"He’s learned to be a pro. He gets out of hand sometimes but it’s something we’ve needed: his energy and toughness. Tonight he was poised and kept his head in the game.”
Coach Frank Vogel chimed in with more praise for his team, but he was cautious of any premature celebration:“I’m proud of our guys,” he said.
“We played a heck of a game. I really liked the offensive balance from our starters and our bench played really well. It’s a good start to the series, but it’s just a good start.”
Vogel is right, it’s a great start but that’s all it is. Since 2011, Miami is 16-3 after losing Game 1 and they will be coming out with a point to prove.
Plus, the fact that they outscored Indiana 54-38 in the paint doesn’t bold well for the Pacers, especially if the Heat can get their three-point shooting working for them again.
Another area that needs significant improvement is the fastbreak points differential. Letting Miami get out on the break to score is bad enough, but scoring just six points yourself usually results in an extra L to your record. Indiana can’t afford to have those two things occur if they want to advance to the NBA Finals.
Overall, Indiana has been solid recently with the 102-79 loss to Washington being the only major blemish. If they can maintain the aspects of Game One, namely team basketball on offense, getting ample opportunities at the free-throw line and Lance Stephenson at his best, along with their stellar defense, they will be a force to be reckoned with.
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