It wasn’t pretty, but the Indiana Pacers found a way to win on the road against the Chris Bosh-less Heat and evened the series at one game apiece with a 78-75 victory. Although the Pacers didn’t gain a huge advantage in the middle with Bosh on the sidelines, they kept their playoff hopes alive by taking care of business and splitting games on Miami’s floor. Now the series heads back to Indiana where the Pacers will try to take advantage of playing at home and possibly take a lead in the series.
When Chris Bosh went down in Game 1 with a low abdominal strain, the sports world seemed to be divided: half (including me) thought the Heat’s chances of winning a title or even winning this series were seriously hurt by Bosh’s injury, while the other half believed it would just clear the way for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to shine. Game 2 was a little bit of both, but only because both teams shot the ball so poorly. The Pacers shot under 38 percent and the Heat were even worse at just under 35 percent. The Heat were also an appalling 1-for-16 from downtown, so even though LeBron finished with 28 points, nine rebounds, six steals and five assists to complement Dwyane Wade’s 24 points, six rebounds and four assists, the Heat couldn’t get anything out of their supporting cast to beat the better all-around team effort from Indiana.
The Pacers had a serious scoring drought in the second quarter before putting a run together to head into the locker room down by five. In the third quarter, however, Indiana came to life thanks to David West and Danny Granger, who picked up the offensive intensity. West led Indiana with 16 points and 10 rebounds while Granger, who had another poor shooting night but found open shooters and played quality defense on LeBron, pitched in 11 points and six rebounds. The Pacers outscored the Heat 28-14 in the third and took a nine point lead heading into the fourth. Miami battled back in the game’s final minutes and it could have gone either way, but neither team seemed ready to seize control of the game by making their free throws. LeBron James missed three free throws in the fourth, including two back-to-backs that would have given the Heat the lead with 54 seconds to play. George Hill could have put the game away for the Pacers with 14 seconds left, but only made one of two and gave Mario Chalmers a chance to erase Indiana’s three point advantage at the buzzer (which was a really bad decision on Erik Spoelstra’s part). Fortunately for Indiana, it didn’t fall and the Pacers took Game 2 on the road.
Indiana winning this game was huge not only because they gave themselves a chance to compete in this series, but also because they did it without Roy Hibbert having a big impact. Hibbert has really struggled on the offensive end in the postseason, which is inexcusable considering the vast size advantage he’s had on opponents so far. At some point, the Pacers won’t be able to contend without Hibbert having a few prolific scoring nights, but for now, being able to win without Hibbert putting up big numbers was a huge accomplishment despite the fact that Miami blew numerous chances to finish them off at home. With no Chris Bosh, Frank Vogel needs to find a way to exploit Miami’s weakness down low and get both Hibbert and West involved. Danny Granger still needs to shoot the ball better and 17 turnovers is way too many to give a Heat team that thrives off transition buckets. But Indiana’s defensive strategy of focusing on shutting down Wade worked for the most part and showed the world that a Miami Heat team without Bosh is very vulnerable against a complete team with multiple contributors (side note: that no-call when Wade looked like he was fouled by Dahntay Jones was a great no-call. Stop flopping, Wade. You’re better than that). George Hill and Paul George both stepped up, Granger’s contribution was slightly improved and Leandro Barbosa had a solid game off the bench, as opposed to the Heat, who had no one score more than five points other than LeBron and Wade. With home court advantage, Indiana needs to capitalize and get big games from Granger and Hibbert while only allowing LeBron and Wade to hurt them on the other end. If they do these things at home, Miami will have their hands full against this dangerous Indiana squad.