Entering the opening game of the Eastern Conference Finals, it was the Miami Heat, not the Indiana Pacers, who were a mess. The Heat lost 107-96 in Game 1.
Over the past three months, the Pacers have been good, bad, ugly and downright bewildering. Tonight, the Heat were so ugly they would be kicked out of a South Beach club. Sans Dwyane Wade, of course. The bouncers would have let Wade and his 27 points in while putting a straight arm out in front of LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
James’ performance was especially bewildering. At times he could be the dominant full-court player we are all accustomed too, with steals via precognition leading to transition points.
Other times and too often, James was giving up easy buckets on defense. Possibly looking for the steal, or simply not paying attention, James’ defense broke down on a number of backdoor cuts. On this one, James was supposed to be fronting David West but overplayed Paul George, letting West sneak right by him for an easy score.
Of all of Erik Spoelstra’s chess pieces, Chris Bosh may be the most important against the Pacers. His spacing is supposed to help draw Roy Hibbert out of his rim-side lair. He was able to do that to some extent, but he needs to hit shots. Bosh went 0-5 from three-point range and scored just nine points.
On the other hand, the Pacers looked like the good Pacers. They shot better than 51 percent, including 8-of-19 from three. The ball moved well and they were aggressive going against the Heat’s small lineup. Miami couldn’t keep themselves from fouling on a lot of Indiana’s drives and found themselves over the limit early in quarters. Indiana shot 37 free-throws compared to just 15 for Miami.
All five starters for Indiana scored in double digits and contributed with assists or rebounds. Outside of James and Wade, Miami’s starters scored a combined 18 points.
Still, all is not lost for the Heat. Game 1 is in the books and went to the home team. Miami can still steal home-court advantage by winning Game 2 Tuesday night.
It isn’t a matter of making adjustments. The Heat know how to beat the Pacers by now, they just need to execute better—closing out on defense, hitting shots and getting to the rim. That starts with LeBron, Wade and Bosh, then trickles down to the role players.