There was a sequence near the end of the third quarter of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Pacers fans were engaged. They could sense that their team was within one quarter of taking that proverbial “commanding” 2-0 series lead, even if winning two games against the Miami Heat wouldn’t have fully felt “commanding,” based on the precariousness of the Pacers five-week playoff run. The Pacers were playing with wonderful confidence and energy in Game 1. Lance Stephenson was dissecting the swarming Heat defense. The Pacers kept Miami off-balance and lived at the free-throw line (37 attempts). Everything was clicking.
At halftime, the Heat held a 43-37 lead. Their defensive intensity noticeable. Paul George couldn’t find an opening. This was the game you wanted so badly for the Pacers. They HAD to win Game 1, but to take Game 2 meant you could fully believe they’d win two more, once Miami established that extra gear. I still think the Pacers have a 40-50% chance to win this series. They have to win 1 of 2 in Miami, and they’ll be in business, but that inevitable feeling that great teams have, that “just wait long enough, and……” it’s hard not to feel crushed by the ending of Game 2. So what happened?
The Pacers played a superb third quarter, with Stephenson (10 in the third) leading the charge offensively, and the defense locking down and forcing Mario Chalmers into four (4!) turnovers in the period. Chalmers wasn’t heard from for the rest of the night. The diminutive and feisty Norris Cole received those crunch-time minutes instead. Cole defends the pick-and-roll better than any other Heat guard besides Wade. Indiana erased the six-point lead early, and had built a 7-point cushion (63-56) after a George Hill triple with 2:07 remaining. Here’s where things went south for Indiana.
Chris Bosh had missed his first 7 three-point attempts of the series. Chris Bosh’s ability to stretch the floor is absolutely crucial to the effectiveness of James and Wade. Bosh’s 20-foot range saved the Heat repeatedly in the early years of their playoff success. As a Celtics fan, the image of Bosh receiving the kick-out pass and draining that one-step inside the arc top-of-the-key jumper is haunting. You knew Bosh would start knocking down shots at some point. You just hoped it started in Game 3 or Game 4. Instead, it started with 2:00 left in the third quarter of Game 2. James drives. Bosh in the corner. Splash. Lead cut to 4. David West turnover. James drives. Cole in the corner. Splash. Lead down to 1. End of third quarter.
Cole hit another corner three early in the 4th quarter. Perhaps the greatest damage Cole inflicted on Indiana was flailing wildly on a screen, connecting with David West’s eye, and leaving West squinting the rest of the game. West is a notoriously physical player, but didn’t look the same after the incident with Cole in the third quarter. Bosh didn’t take another shot until Miami had a firm 84-77 lead with less than a minute remaining in the game.
The Dwyane Wade collision with Paul George (seemingly accidental knee to the back of the head while George was diving for a loose ball) resulted in George playing with a concussion and blurred vision for the final four minutes.
The Heat emerged from Game 2 on the backs of LeBron and Wade, who scored their last fifteen points. They escaped with a win that most fans expected. We’ve seen so many Heat playoff wins over the last four years that it’s hard to expect anything else. Still, the Pacers have a few days to consider that they’ve won 5 of the 8 quarters the two teams have played. They have a few days to remember that Roy Hibbert can dominate the Heat inside. They have a few days for David West to get some eye treatment. And they have a few days for Paul George’s concussion symptoms to hopefully subside. He will have to pass the league’s concussion protocol to play in Game 3 on Saturday night. It might be wise for George to sit out Game 3 and give himself a better chance to succeed in Monday’s Game 4. The Pacers can win this series. They need two more wins in the next four games to get back to Indiana for a Game 7. The Spurs-Thunder won’t be going seven games. This won very well might.
Here are clips from Pacers coach Frank Vogel’s press conference following Game 2. The expressions tell you how brutal this loss was.
One thing (easier said than done) Vogel would be wise to tell his Pacers, “Let LeBron drive, just don’t let him kick.” Those corner threes are deadly.