This months-long focus on home-court advantage between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat isn’t just semantics or artificial hype or boredom management. There is a reason it matters and why it’s valued.
There were a dozen or so different moments that could’ve changed the outcome of the Pacers’ 84-83 win over the Heat on Wednesday night.
There was a quick second technical foul on Lance Stephenson that got him ejected, a rare flagrant offensive foul on LeBron James, a disallowed Dwyane Wade 3-pointer because he was ruled out of bounds when replays showed he might not have been, a James 3-pointer that rattled in and out in the last minute, what David West called the biggest 3-point shot of his career, Wade’s hamstring tightening up at a bad moment that cost the Heat a star and a valuable timeout, a canceled flagrant foul on Ian Mahinmi when he grasped James by the neck, a few mistimed Heat turnovers, a Ray Allen stomach virus, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra selecting Chris Bosh for the final shot and not James and on and on.
Rather than breaking down and obsessing over each break of the game, realize these two teams have played three games and have been separated by a total of four points this season. The home team has won each one. They’ve played 13 games over the past two seasons, including the playoffs, and the Pacers now have a 7-6 edge. The home team has won all but two of those games, with each team winning on the other’s floor once.
Simply, this rivalry is tight, and if they meet again for a third consecutive season in the playoffs, there are going to be games that come down to the narrowest of margins, such as where a potential Game 7 is located.
The Pacers took a huge step in that direction with the victory. They now have a two-game lead in the loss column, plus they’ve virtually locked up the tiebreaker, which essentially makes it a three-game lead. They have assured no worse than a 2-2 finish in the head-to-head tiebreaker — the final game of the season series is April 11 in Miami — and they have a large lead on the second tiebreaker, which is conference record. Had the Heat won, the teams would’ve been tied in the loss column, and the Heat would’ve had the inside track on winning the tiebreak. ESPN
Last night was the first time I watched the Heat play an entire game since their recent skid with inconsistent play and no-name accusations of laziness and apathy. What stood out the most for me was that the only player who played his hardest every minute was LeBron James. Everyone else’s focus seemed to come and go.
Chris Bosh hit the three-point shot to bring the game within one and played decent defense, but he did not impact the game enough.
Dwyane Wade did play hard, but had several moments where he lost focus, or clearly didn’t put full effort into some plays. In fairness, there was a play near the end of the fourth quarter where he had to sprint full court to defend a fast break attempt by Evan Turner which led to him limping to bench. Wade returned to the game after a timeout but it did show he can’t fully exert himself at will without straining his body.
This was one of my favorite LeBron James games. The game swung on what he did and did not do. The Pacers mostly only hard-fouled him and he gave it right back. James scored on nearly half the team’s points and there’s no telling how many of their points he also assisted on. It was like he was a Cleveland Cavalier all over again.
If it sounds like I’m having some Heat bias, it’s because I was really disappointed by the Indiana Pacers. Check out what Jason Whitlock, a lifetime Pacers’ fan, said about the win.
Proved nothing. Took shine off ECFs. Love my Pacers but that did not add confidence. Bad game.
— Jason Whitlock (@WhitlockJason) March 27, 2014
I’m sure most Pacers’ fans don’t have the same sentiment but there was a whole lot to dislike about this win.
One of the worst kept secrets in the NBA is that Roy Hibbert is not a good scorer. The narrative doesn’t support this argument because he tends to play well in the national spotlight against the Heat, the smallest team in the league. Pat Riley brought in Greg Oden to alleviate this problem but it hasn’t paid off so far. Hibert annihilated Oden (six minutes played despite being the starting lineup) and had 17 points with four minutes to go in the second quarter. He would score four points the rest of the game. That’s just not good enough.
The Pacers’ offense was completely awful at times. There were no sets being run at the end of the game. After Wade tricked Lance Stephenson into getting himself kicked out, the Pacers’ offense turned into “hand the ball to Evan Turner and see what happens.” They were doing it with Stephenson before his ejection, but what the hell kind of offense is that for moments like these? A rare David West three-pointer saved the day, but who wants to count on that in the postseason? The Pacers were perfect from the free throw line until the fourth quarter when they missed four attempts, including George Hill on the last two which left the Pacers with only a one-point lead. One positive note is that only ten turnovers were committed by the Pacers, a huge improvement from previous meetings with the Heat.
The reality is that the Heat played a bad game and they were without Jesus Shuttlesworth, the miracle worker, who was out with the flu. This win should give the Pacers confidence. Here’s to hoping they maintain focus on the way to a dramatic postseason series.
No matter what, these teams always provide great entertainment for fans so we all win. – AL
Featured image courtesy of Matt Velazquez/Flickr.