What a difference a few months can make. In what was set to be a blockbuster rematch of the past two seasons' Eastern Conference finals, tonight's game was never going to be close to previous contests.
An injury ravaged Pacers' team matched up with Miami without their best weapons; Paul George, David West, George Hill all missing. Instead, Roy Hibbert led a depleted Indiana team to a good start with the Pacers concentrating early on making the Heat defend as a team. There was a lot of ball movement, they were making sure everybody got touches, and they were trying to move the defense side-to-side to get them out of position. Two early fouls on Bosh helped them take advantage of the lineups Miami put on the floor.
Chris Andersen was a welcome addition of energy and James Ennis effectively cleaned up an early Mario Chalmers turnover with an armpit block. But it was the vision of Dwyane Wade icing his hamstring on the bench early in the second quarter which brought an ominous sight. Thankfully it wasn't enough to keep him out of the game and he was back in to lead Miami to a 42-41 lead at halftime. They had the chance to open the lead up but a quick 9-1 run from Indiana and a third foul on Bosh shrunk the Indiana deficit.
In contrast to Miami's ball movement against Dallas, at times it was somewhat stagnant and the chemistry looked to be on hold. Shawne Williams proved what a bargain he's turning out to be scoring 15 points. By the end of the third, the game had turned ugly. The Pacers clamped down defensively shutting off the paint and the Heat couldn't execute. Roy Hibbert finished with 16 points, 15 rebounds, two assists.
At times Miami looked rushed in their offense and even a spark from Norris Cole failed to do the scoring any favors. The Pacers flexed their size inside with rebounding too and were up 41-19 on rebounds through three quarters. Great supporting play from Chris Copeland with 17 points and Donald Slaon (15 points) did Miami no favors.
The fourth quarter was much like the previous. Stale, frustrating and at times, unnecessary even with Wade finishing with 20 points. Miami showed they can be taken out of their game and into the ugliness of teams that like to muck it all up and grind you out defensively. It's not something the Heat have to be worried about on a nightly basis because only a handful of teams (Pacers, Bulls at times, Grizzlies, Hornets, etc.) can play this way consistently. But the Heat have to have a plan of execution they can stick to. Whether that means Luol Deng is more assertive or Chris Bosh (9 points) just can't have bad games, they can't let this be a plan of action against them.