LeBron James drove the lane for an uncontested layup with just over two seconds remaining in overtime Wednesday night, leading the Miami Heat to a 103-102 win over the Indiana Pacers in a highly-entertaining Game 1 of the NBA's Eastern Conference finals.
James had his ninth career playoff triple-double, scoring 30 points with 10 assists and 10 rebounds. But curiously, he was merely an afterthought for much the game’s 53 minutes. What truly resonated were the crucial performances of some lesser-known players at Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena.
This was a very physical contest from the start, with James uncharacteristically getting whistled twice with personal fouls in the first quarter, after which he would sit through the remainder of the second quarter. In his place, Chris “Birdman” Andersen came in and was instrumental in keeping the Heat to within seven points at the half. He finished with 16 points on the night on 7-of-7 shooting from the field to go with three important blocks that resulted in transition points. On one such play, he blocked a shot under the hoop and scored the transition dunk himself.
Miami as a whole got five players in double figures, including, in addition to James and Andersen, Chris Bosh (17 points), Dwyane Wade (19, to go with 6 rebounds and 5 assists), and Mario Chalmers, who had 10 points, including two three-pointers.
Seemingly from the start, Indiana dictated the pace of the game – keeping it at a slow, half-court tempo. For the season, they gave up a miserly 90 points a game (2nd in the NBA only to Memphis), and never permitted the Heat to get their transition game going effectively. 58 personal fouls and 40 turnovers (20 each) were compiled by the two teams. Players were flying into the stands, over one another, and were rolling on the floor on what seemed like every possession.
On the offensive side for the Pacers were David West’s amazing 18 first half points (he finished with 26 on 11-of-17 shooting), and Paul George, who after scoring only 2 points in the first half, caught fire, netting 25 in the latter frames (with 8 in the overtime period), including some endgame heroics. In the last moments of the fourth quarter, he hit a 32-foot three-pointer to tie the game at 92. And with just over two seconds remaining in the overtime period, having been fouled while attempting a desperation shot from behind the arc, calmly tossed in three foul shots to get Indiana back in the lead, 102-101.
Indiana, in addition to West and George, had two others in double-digit scoring: Roy Hibbert, with 19 points to go with 9 rebounds, and Tyler Hansbrough, who had 10 points, including some important third quarter buckets while West was benched with foul trouble. The Pacers also got ten boards from Lance Stephenson, who continues his inspired play throughout these playoffs, and seven assists from George Hill, who logged nearly 45 minutes of playing time while playing through a concussion sustained in the last playoff series against the New York Knicks.
George’s other-worldly accomplishments, however, were deflated by a critical coaching miscue by Indiana coach Frank Vogel, who opted to keep big man Hibbert on the bench for the final Miami play. He later admitted that given another chance, he would do things differently. Hibbert had the team’s only two blocked shots during the game, and without him, James drove the lane unopposed for an easy left-handed layup. A big question now looms for Vogel and his Pacers: will they be resilient and play through what was obviously an enormous disappointment in losing Game 1, or will there be carryover to Friday’s Game 2 in Miami. Great teams reboot; it’s Indiana’s choice.