For the Indiana Pacers, the game was theirs for the taking. Dwyane Wade fouled out. They won the free throw and rebounding battles while forcing 21 Miami Heat turnovers. Yet when the final buzzer sounded and LeBron James’ layup gave the Heat a 103-102 overtime win in Wednesday night’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Indiana was left sulking and stunned while asking themselves “what the hell happened?”
“It just felt like everything was in our favor,” Pacers forward Paul George said. If Indiana, as expected, gets eliminated in the league’s semifinal round, the team will undoubtedly be kicking itself for not taking this game on the road.
So what the hell happened? Forget about the Pacers leaving Roy Hibbert out of the game on the final play in overtime, which will be widely covered and discussed in other articles and forums. Indiana was soundly defeated at its own game. How else could you explain the frontcourt-loaded Pacers being outscored by 12 in the paint, 60-48?
ESPN Stats & Info pointed out that Miami averaged just 30.7 points in the paint against Indiana during the regular season, but nearly doubled that total in Game 1.
There are still more questions Indiana has to address after its series-opening defeat. How could LeBron James have more rebounds (10) than Hibbert (9), David West (5) and George (4)? If Indiana is such a strong defensive team inside, how could Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen combine for 33 points on 13-for-18 shooting from the floor?
Indiana is supposed to be an excellent defensive team at every position, yet it was Miami’s perimeter defense that proved to be superior. How else could you explain the starting Pacers backcourt of George Hill and Lance Stephenson combining for 12 points on 4-for-19 shooting?
“Two great teams just throwing punch for punch,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. “Our spirit is very high, very confident. We know we can play with this basketball team.”
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If Indiana wants to have a puncher’s chance in this series, the team also has to stop the star players not named LeBron. Namely, Wade and Bosh. Despite fouling out, Wade had a really strong effort, scoring 19 points on 9-for-15 from the floor to go with six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
|Wade & Bosh||FG %||Points||Reb||Assists||FTA|
For a team that prides itself on its defensive play, it allowed Wade and Bosh to shoot 11 percentage points better than its playoff average and score 10 more points.
There were, of course, a lot of things that Indiana did well. Otherwise, they would not have come so close to taking Game 1 on the road. Hibbert, George and West combined to shoot 24-for-41 from the field with a total of 72 points. Tyler Hansbrough canceled out Andersen’s production by scoring 10 points on 5-for-8 shooting, while getting six rebounds in just 12 minutes. Perhaps he needs more time on the floor. Indiana held Norris Cole and Ray Allen to six total points on 2-for-12 shooting.
Despite all those things that the Pacers were successful in doing, there are several key corrections they need to make going forward. There’s no way Indiana can be successful by being outscored in the paint. Hill and Stephenson need to contribute offensively, and the team has to reduce its number of turnovers; it was 20 in Game 1 and a woeful 16.2 per game this postseason. That won’t fly against a team as good as Miami. It’s also going to be difficult to contain bench players like Allen, Cole and Shane Battier all series long, but Indiana has the defensive stoppers to limit the production of Wade and Bosh.
Indiana certainly came close to taking Game 1, but there’s still a ton the team has to do to avoid losing this series in four or five games.
Shlomo Sprung loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter.