By: Travis Thayer (@TheTravisThayer)
With 2.2 seconds left on the clock, LeBron James received the inbounds pass at the top of the key and raced by Paul George for the game winning layup. With Roy Hibbert on the bench, James was able to get to the rim with ease to lift the Heat to a 103-102 overtime win. James didn’t give us a Jordan-esk moment with a game-winning jumper because that simply isn’t his style. James attacked the basket and saved himself and Dwayne Wade from some severe ridicule. The previous possession saw Wade foul George on a three point attempt. George nailed all three shots to take a one point lead, and the Pacers looked like they would steal Game 1 on the road. We all know now what happened next, but overtime was anything but great for the league’s MVP. It took LeBron four minutes and 5o seconds to score a basket in overtime before scoring the games final and decisive basket. If not for that LeBron and Wade would be the scapegoats of Game 1. Here is what we have learned from Game 1:
Paul George is on the brink of stardom
Paul George made one of the more improvable shots you will ever see. With the seconds winding down, George made an off balance 32-footer to send the game to overtime. He scored 25 of his 27 points in the second half, while guarding MVP LeBron James. I’m not ready to call George a superstar, but he is showing he is a good player who has the potential to be great.
Frank Vogel didn’t cost the Pacers the game
The choice to keep center Roy Hibbert on the bench in the game’s final moments, was not the reason the Pacers lost the game. Vogel has used the same strategy for most of the season, and with good cause. Vogel was concerned with what Miami might do with Chris Bosh, which was why he decided to bench Hibbert. That is a perfectly fine reason, but let’s examine this further. The Heat had five shooters spreading the floor, and they were switching all screens. If Hibbert were left in the game, the Pacers ran the risk of him getting switched onto LeBron James. If that hypothetical situation had happened, the same result would have been likely. The fact of the matter is that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra drew up a good play, and his players executed it.
Heat role players
Ray Allen uncharacteristically missed a free throw that led to George’s game-tying three. Shane Battier was non-existant on offense, while doing the best he could on defense against David West. Battier can’t guard West consistently because of his lack of size, so he has to make up for that on offense. Norris Cole did a fine job of filling in for injured Mario Chalmers. His on-ball defense on George Hill was excellent, and he really helped the Heat grind out some defensive stops late in the game. The unsung hero of the game was Chris “Birdman” Andersen. “Birdman” was spectacular (16 pts (7-7), 5 reb, 3 blk) providing energy, toughness, and even some scoring punch. If “Birdman” can keep up his great play and Allen and Battier find their touch from outside, this series may be over before you know it.
What to expect in Game 2
Game 1 was very physical and Game 2 should be no different. The Pacers will continue to force the ball down low to big men David West and Roy Hibbert. It will be interesting to see how Paul George plays the rest of the series after exerting so much effort guarding LeBron. Will he get fatigued, or will he have another great game as he did in Game 1? The Pacers will need to get contributions from Lance Stephenson and George Hill if the expect to win the series, but that will be a tall task for the two. Stephenson was guarded by LeBron James for a good portion of the game, and George Hill had some serious issues handling the ball. For the Heat, the need LeBron to duplicate his Game 1 performance while getting more help from his role players. Ray Allen and Shane Battier have to hit some shots to offset their defensive issues. If those two guys get going then it could be lights for the Pacers. One concern for the Heat is the injury status of point guard Mario Chalmers. If he can’t go, who will replace him? Wade or James may be asked to do more ball handling, which may force a Mike Miller sighting. One thing is for sure is that the Pacers know they can hang with the Heat, and Game 2 should be more physical than Game 1. If the Pacers can’t steal the next game they may be in danger of being eliminated sooner rather than later. I expect the Pacers to play as desperate as they can, while the Heat will look to crush the spirit of the Pacers before the series heads back to Indianapolis.