The Miami Heat have been the unrivaled champions for the last two seasons, and in their path to those championships Miami has had to face the Pacers in two pivotal playoff series battles. First in the 2011-2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals and then in the 2012-2013 Eastern Conference Finals. The high drama and intensity of these playoff games, accompanied by the thirst from the NBA Fandom to relive 90’s style basketball have turned the Heat and Pacers into must watch TV. But is it a rivalry? LeBron doesn’t think so, “We’re two teams that have the same aspirations, and if we happen to meet again, then possibly…but everyone wants to classify it as a rivalry. It’s not.” James said yesterday before the game.
Rivalry or not, the NBA gave us gave us an early Christmas present by gifting us a playoff basketball experience on a Tuesday night early in December. Very rare.
The Heat (16-5) were on the road to play the Pacers, (18-3) who were undefeated at home and looking for a statement game to prove that their record is no fluke. Although, Miami echoed LeBron’s sentiments on how this game was simply two good teams facing each other, the start of the game dispelled all the downplaying.
The Heat were zoned in on defense early, forcing turnovers and virtually shuting down Paul George through the first 2 quarters. Miami’s glaring weakness has been size and Indiana has a lot of it, which always makes beating Pacers an arduous task. Roy Hibbert, the Pacers center, kept the game close as he was effective on defending the rim while staying out of foul trouble. Hibbert anchored the paint on defense and disrupted Miami’s offensive tempo and execution by clogging the driving lanes and forcing passes out to shooters who seemed to be off all night – most notably Shane Battier (1-6 from three-point territory). Hibbert finished with 24 points, 5 rebounds and a block. The Pacers were able to squeezed this one out at 90-84 and stayed undefeated at home by exploiting the Ray Allen, Paul George match up late in the game and forcing Heat players to take outside shots that weren’t finding the net.
The Heat had a very average second half effort and their total outputs reflected it. LeBron who is usually an extremely effective shot was just 6-16 finishing with 17 points, 14 rebounds and 6 assists. Dwyane Wade scored 17 points on 6-14 shooting with 6 assists and 6 rebounds. Bosh had it tough as he and Birdman were the only “Bigs” that played and had to deal with the bulk of Indiana’s prowess. Bosh finished with 12 points and just 3 rebounds.
The Heat will face the Pacers again on Wednesday of next week, but that time at home in the American Airlines Arena and hopefully under healthier circumstances. However Indiana’s “statement game” serves to Pacers fans as a step towards a crowning, while Heat fans will merely shrug it off.
NEXT GAME: Saturday, Cavaliers @ Heat. Tip off 7:30pm.