Pacers do what that they were built to do: Beat Heat in playoffs
The Pacers got big games from Roy Hibbert, David West, Paul George and Lance Stephenson to manhandle LeBron James' Miami Heat 107-96 on Sunday in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
INDIANAPOLIS -- This is a first, but here we are. The Miami Heat are in a playoff series, and the story isn't LeBron James. The story isn't anywhere in the Miami Heat locker room, a spartan place Sunday without leather chairs or stainless steel nameplates or any of the trappings of NBA wealth.
LeBron sat in his empty locker after Game 1, icing his knees and shoulders after this 107-96 loss to the Indiana Pacers, talking quietly with Ray Allen beneath a single decorative touch: a one-inch strip of trainer's tape stuck on the panel above his head, the number "6" written in black ink.
That's his locker, but this isn't his story.
The story is on the other side of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, in the other locker room, and that just doesn't happen when LeBron is in the playoffs. It definitely doesn't happen when he's in the playoffs and I'm in attendance, because I'm obsessed fascinated with LeBron, win or lose, and when the Heat wins it's because he's done something great, and when they lose it's because he's done something not so great. Or because his teammates let him down.
Whatever the case, he's the story, every time. And he's almost the story here, until I switch tracks right now to get to the truth of the Eastern Conference Finals:
The Indiana Pacers could actually win this thing. And LeBron might be powerless to stop it.
The Pacers were built not to win 60 games or even to win the NBA Finals. The Pacers were built to get past the Miami Heat in a seven-game series, and as ludicrous as that idea seemed when the postseason began, I'll remind you of this:
It has been a month since the postseason began.
Along the way the Pacers have shown inklings of the team that emerged in full on Sunday, the team that began this season with a 46-13 record and then manhandled the Heat by attempting 22 more free throws and grabbing nine more rebounds. That 46-13 team, that team that manhandled the Heat on Sunday, had a great center named Roy Hibbert.
The Pacers also have a matchup nightmare at power forward named David West. And one of the best young players in the game in Paul George. And the outrageous Lance Stephenson, who saw he had the 6-foot-9, 275-pound LeBron on him during the second quarter and chose to back him down for a bucket.
The Pacers have a lot of size, and a lot of girth, and a lot of moxie. And the Heat are in a lot of trouble.
They don't see it that way, of course, which is fine. The Miami Heat of this LeBron-Dwyane Wade era have lost the first game of a seven-game series four times -- and they won the series all four times. Been here? Done that. And they were talking on Sunday like a team that expects to do it again.
"There's so much more basketball left," Wade said.
"They took care of business in Game 1," LeBron said. "We'll figure it out going into Game 2."
Maybe so. But what if "figuring it out" requires changing the roster? Bringing in a center who can handle Hibbert -- and a power forward who can slow down West? On Sunday the Heat had neither, opening the game with Chris Bosh on Hibbert and Shane Battier on West, and realizing before the end of the first quarter what a bad idea that was. The Pacers scored the first seven points, led 23-14 and never let the Heat get closer than four points. And only briefly. The Pacers spent most of this game leading by double digits, even after the Heat adjusted to the Pacers' size by putting Chris Andersen at center and LeBron on West. Didn't matter.
Hibbert finished with 19 points and nine rebounds. West had 19 and seven.
"Obviously that's a physical front line," LeBron said of the Pacers. "It's got to be a collective group [defending], not just one guy, two guys."
It won't be Bosh. He missed shots on the Heat's first and third possession, sandwiching those around a turnover when he threw the ball away, and was borderline useless the rest of the way. Bosh finished with nine points on 12 shots and grabbed two rebounds in 32 minutes. He blocked no shots. He was the world's smallest 7-footer.
Hibbert was enormous. Until the Heat caught him in the fourth quarter, Hibbert had attempted more free throws than the whole Miami team. He finished with 13 FT attempts, two fewer than Miami's 15, and hit nine (one fewer than Miami's 10).
Bosh dismissed Hibbert's impact, because of course he did.
"He shot 5 of 13 [from the floor]," Bosh said. "I'm not going to pay attention to that. The difference was that they were plus-22 at the free-throw line."
But, um, Hibbert had the bulk of those free throws for Indiana and ... nevermind. Let's go to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who says nothing better than anyone, and who said the solution is to change not a damn thing.
"We just need to do it better," he said. "Yeah, we need to do it better. It's as simple as that. We need to get to do what we do, and then do that better."
Hey, it could happen. Bosh could hit his first two shots instead of missing them. He could use that quick start to score 20 points, and use that offensive confidence boost to grab seven or eight rebounds. Hibbert could disappear like he disappeared late in the regular season, and for most of the first-round series with the Hawks, and then for Game 1 against the Wizards (zero points, zero rebounds in 18 minutes).
Lots of stuff could change. Lots of stuff will change, probably. The Pacers probably won't hit five of their first six 3-pointers in the next game. The Pacers probably won't attempt 22 more free throws (37 to 15) again. Heat guard Mario Chalmers can score a lot more than six points. As a team, the Heat can do so much better than 6 for 23 (26.1 percent) on 3-pointers.
Oh, and LeBron. He can do more than the 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists he had in Game 1.
But the story for this night, and probably for this series, won't be LeBron. It'll be in the other locker room, the one where Roy Hibbert resides, capable of going for 19-and-9 and nearly shooting more free throws than the whole roster of the Miami Heat -- and also capable of going scoreless twice against the Hawks and once against the Wizards.
What happens the rest of the way, even if the Heat win this series and advance to the NBA Finals, it could happen around Miami. It could happen to Miami. It'll happen in the other locker room, the one where Hibbert was surrounded by leather chairs and steel nameplates and about 25 reporters on Sunday, when his postgame press conference was interrupted by the sound of Paul George's cell phone erupting in a hail of congratulatory messages after the Pacers had done something enormous and yet not so astonishing at all.
They were built for this series. Built to win it, even.
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