|Pacers pull away from Heat 107-96 to take 1-0 lead|
|Sunday, May 18, 2014 8:00 PM|
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana is done talking about home-court advantage.
The top-seeded Pacers are ready to use it against the 2-time defending champs.
They took the first step Sunday, when Paul George finished with 24 points and seven assists, David West added 19 points and seven rebounds and suddenly surging Indiana led wire-to-wire in a 107-96 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
“This is just a fun matchup,” George said. “It’s one that we’ve been waiting for all year.”
For the first time in this year’s playoffs, the Pacers won a series opener. And for the first time in their last three playoff battles against the Heat, the Pacers won Game 1.
Game 2 is Tuesday night. The home team has won all five games in this season’s fiercest and most competitive rivalry, though none was more impressive or important than this one.
All five Indiana starters and backup C.J. Watson scored in double figures, helping Indiana produce its highest point total of the playoffs.
The Pacers limited the Heat to just four offensive rebounds and 6-of-23 shooting from beyond the arc. LeBron James went 1-of-5 on 3s and shot just two free throws and Miami fell so far behind so fast, it never even had a chance to tie the score.
Sure, opening this best-of-7 series at Bankers Life Fieldhouse helped. The hometown crowd that sometimes serenaded the Pacers with boos during the first two rounds spent most of the first half on its feet, chanted “De-fense” every time it looked as if the Heat might come back and finished the game with its customary chant of “Beat The Heat!”
But the biggest difference was on the court.
Indiana shared the ball, limited its turnovers, maintained its poise and got contributions from everyone in a game it had to win. Roy Hibbert finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, Lance Stephenson had 17 points and eight assists and George Hill added 15 points as the Pacers looked more like the team that was so dominant over the first half of the season, rather than the one struggled so mightily in the second half.
The challengers in this matchup insist they know it’s only a start.
The toughest part for the Heat will be figuring out what went wrong.
Coach Erik Spoelstra used Shane Battier in the starting lineup, then replaced him with Udonis Haslem after the Pacers took a 55-45 halftime lead. It made no difference.
James, who had 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and Dwyane Wade, who had 27 points on 12-of-18 shooting, desperately tried to rally the Heat but got little help. Chris Bosh had nine points and two rebounds. Ray Allen finished with 12 points.
While Bosh thought the primary problem was Miami’s inability to get stops, James wasn’t as sure.
“The game’s still so fresh. It’s too hard to just say, ‘Well, we need to do this better in Game 2’,” James said after the Heat lost for just the second time in 10 playoff games. “We need to evaluate our mistakes and things we did in Game 1 first before I can say what we need to bring to Game 2.”
Clearly, the Pacers weren’t the same team that spent most of the last three months answering questions about their second-half swoon.
Indiana swarmed the glass, exploited its size advantage, knocked down six of its first seven 3-pointers and forced the Heat into playing catch-up.
When the Heat cut a 10-point, first-quarter deficit to 41-37 midway through the second quarter, Stephenson scored four points in a 5-0 run to make it 46-37. When James trimmed it to 50-45 with back-to-back baskets late in the quarter, the Pacers ended the half with five straight points to make it 55-45.
Hibbert and West then combined eight of Indiana’s first 14 points to open the second half, pushing the lead to 69-52.
James and Wade rallied the Heat within 83-74 early in the fourth but the Pacers opened it up again to 102-84 with 4:11 to go.
Veteran Spurs, young Thunder ready for West finals
OKLAHOMA CITY — When asked about the oldie-but-goodie San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant inquired about Tony Parker’s age.
“Thirty-two,” a reporter answered.
“He is old,” Durant quipped, drawing laughter. “He doesn’t play like he’s 32 years old.”
Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are even older. Duncan just turned 38 and Ginobili is approaching 37. The trio won its first NBA title together in 2003 and fought back Father Time to reach the NBA Finals last year. They will play in their seventh Western Conference finals together, starting with Game 1 tonight in San Antonio.
Durant, the league’s MVP, said there’s more to San Antonio’s success than some mythical fountain of youth. It starts with the genius of Gregg Popovich, the league’s Coach of the Year.
Even with an aging core and numerous injuries throughout the season, the Spurs finished with the league’s best record. They did it with consistency and teamwork that has continued in the playoffs. San Antonio is shooting 49 percent from the field as a team in the postseason, with no player averaging 20 points.
Oklahoma City counters with dynamic individual play from a pair of 25-year-olds. Durant is averaging 31.4 points and 9.5 rebounds in the playoffs. Russell Westbrook is averaging 26.6 points, 8.4 assists and 8.0 rebounds in postseason play.
Westbrook, in particular, has San Antonio’s attention. While Durant’s play has been typical, Westbrook has improved significantly as a floor general during the playoffs.
The Thunder will be without Serge Ibaka, who led the league in blocked shots. The mobile, athletic forward injured his left calf in Game 6 of the conference semifinal against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Here are five things to watch in the series:
THUNDER DOMINANCE: Oklahoma City won all four regular-season meetings with San Antonio this season, so the Spurs will take nothing for granted, even with Ibaka out.
IBAKA’S REPLACEMENT: Oklahoma City rookie Steven Adams is the most likely to see a spike in minutes. Veteran Nick Collison will play more, too. The Thunder could go with a smaller lineup at times and play Durant as a power forward. Coach Scott Brooks still wouldn’t say Sunday who would start in Ibaka’s place.
PARKER’S HAMSTRING: San Antonio was likely to have significant help on Westbrook anyway but Parker’s strained left hamstring could be a major problem against Westbrook and Reggie Jackson, two of the most athletic point guards in the league. Parker said Sunday that the hamstring was still tight but plans to play. Jackson said the Thunder will test Parker early.
LEONARD vs. DURANT: Brooks said Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard is an All-Star in the making. The Spurs feel Leonard is the best equipped player in the league to bother Durant because of his length and energy.
SPURS’ OTHER GUYS: One thing that makes the Spurs dangerous is their depth. Though Parker, Duncan and Ginobili are the best-known players, Leonard, Marco Belinelli, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter and Patty Mills all play their roles well and are capable of being difference-makers in the right situation. Oklahoma City will need to prevent the other guys from having breakout nights.