INDIANAPOLIS – Roy Hibbert threw all the inside body jabs Tuesday night. Paul George finished it off with the knockout blow.
Together, the Pacers devastating one-two scoring punch did it again to the champs.
Hibbert finished with 24 points, George made two big 3-pointers during a 15-point second half scoring spree and Indiana rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit to take Round 1 against Miami 90-84.
It was fun, a real intense game, George said. Both teams were playing at a high level. You could see an urgency to win this game tonight.
While Indiana extended its franchise-record home start to a perfect 10-0 and took a three-game advantage over Miami in the early chase for home-court advantage, this was no ordinary regular season game.
During pregame media availability, Indianas Lance Stephenson said this game felt like a championship matchup. Two of Miamis big three, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, tried to downplay that sort of talk by explaining this was not a win-or-go-home night.
The hometown fans didnt care what the Heat thought. They were already in postseason form, booing loudly at the officials, chanting Hes a flopper on some contestable foul calls and eventually serenading Miami players with those familiar chants of Beat the Heat.
But the Pacers (19-3) also understood this was only the start of a season-long quest that could pit the two best teams in the East in the conference finals for a second straight year.
First, theres the rematch in Miami on Dec. 18. They wont meet again until March 26 in Indianapolis, then head back to Miami on April 11 before what most expect to be a third straight meeting in the playoffs. If those games have as much intrigue and pizazz as Tuesday nights showdown, they may be the most compelling all season.
And the Pacers cant wait to show how much they can improve – even on a win over the two-time champs and four-time MVP LeBron James.
Its just one game, Hibbert said. Were going to learn from it. Its a learning experience. Its still early in the season. We have a lot more work to do.
To the average fan, it looked a lot like last seasons playoff series, which Miami won in seven games.
Hibbert dominated the middle, scoring nine of Indianas first 11 points and making a season-high 10 baskets – most from point-blank range – despite playing in the second half with cotton in his nose.
David West added 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists including a left-handed 4-foot runner that gave Indiana an 88-81 lead with 38.9 seconds to go.
James defense and Miamis physical double-teams frustrated George most of the night, but when George finally got free late, he made three big 3-pointers s to help the Pacers pull away.
I knew it was going to be a night when I was going to explode offensively, George said. I knew I had to move the ball and share it.
Chasing George all night apparently took a toll on James and the Heat (16-6).
While James, the leagues No. 2 scorer did get 17 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, he was just 3 of 11 from the field with nine points over the final 36 minutes. Wade also finished with 17 points, while Bosh added 12.
It was Miamis third loss in five games.
I thought we brought it tonight, James said. We know theyre a very good defensive team. I thought they hit some tough shots and they attacked the rim real well but even though they had us down by 10 rebounds, I thought we rebounded well and we battled.