While the Dwight Howard contract saga in Orlando, the emergence of Jeremy Lin in New York and team success in Chicago and Miami grabbed attention in the Eastern Conference, Indiana quietly became one of the best teams in the league.
The Pacers needed something bigger than just being steady to awaken the basketball world, and they got the signature win they have sought since the All-Star break, beating the Miami Heat 105-90 on Monday night.
”Our guys had a determination that they weren’t going to be denied tonight,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. ”We’re competing at a high level. We’re looking forward to making a serious run at the end of the season and be one of the hottest teams going into the playoffs.”
Danny Granger scored 25 points, Darren Collison scored 20, and Paul George added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Pacers, who have won four of five.
”It’s a confidence builder, showing that if we play the right way, believe in each other, play team defense, that we can be one heck of a team,” Pacers guard George Hill said. ”Anytime that you get a win like this, you have to build off of it.”
LeBron James had 24 points and nine rebounds, and Dwyane Wade had 24 points and six assists for Miami. The Heat, coming off a 103-87 loss at Oklahoma City on Sunday night, lost by double digits in back-to-back games for the first time this season.
”Sometimes, you go through these spells in an NBA season and it’s a struggle,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Miami committed 17 turnovers.
”Some of the turnovers you can live with,” James said. ”We’re attacking, and guys are trying to make a winning play. But some of the ones where you’re just careless, you don’t like those turnovers. I know I had a few careless ones tonight.”
Miami (35-13) lost for the fourth time in eight games overall and is running out of time to catch Chicago (40-10) for the best record in the East. The Heat were outrebounded 49-33 and scored just four fast-break points.
The Heat refused to make a big deal about the losses.
”We’re fine,” forward Chris Bosh said. ”We’re not even going to remember this a month from now, two months from now. We’ll be playing our best basketball. All we can do is learn from our experiences right now and just try to get back on time and everything will take care of itself.”
The Heat had won the previous three meetings this season, but the Pacers played with confidence throughout. Indiana led by double digits for most of the fourth quarter, and Pacers fans stood and showed their appreciation during the final minute.
The Pacers closed the first half out in style. First, Indiana center Roy Hibbert dunked on James with a minute left in the half, then George hit a half-court shot at the buzzer to give the Pacers a 49-46 lead at the break.
”I knew that the time was closing,” George said. ”I just wanted to put it up there and I just got lucky with a prayer. That was a big shot. You go in with momentum off that shot alone. It was very fortunate that I knocked that down.”
A two-handed breakaway jam by Collison early in the third pushed Indiana’s lead to 53-46 and forced Miami to call a timeout. George hit a 3-pointer to push the lead to double digits for the first time. The Pacers held Miami scoreless for the first three minutes of the second half.
James scored and was fouled, missed the free throw, tracked down the rebound and made a jumper to cut Indiana’s lead to 59-55. Wade followed with a 3-pointer, and suddenly, Indiana’s 10-point lead was down to one.
But the Pacers responded quickly. Hibbert stuffed James, and Granger hit a jumper at the other end to give Indiana a 67-60 lead and force another Miami timeout. Granger’s 3-pointer gave Indiana a 71-60 lead. The Pacers held Miami to 6-for-19 shooting in the third quarter to lead 78-65 at the end of the period.
James rested at the start of the fourth quarter, leaving Wade and Bosh to try to close the gap. But two 3s by Indiana’s Leandro Barbosa early in the period helped the Pacers maintain some distance. A three-point play by Barbosa gave the Pacers an 87-73 edge. Barbosa scored nine points in 98 seconds and forced the Heat to put James back into the game.
Indiana remained comfortably ahead the rest of the way. Granger was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three free throws to push Indiana’s lead to 99-87 with 4:30 to play.
”We’re trusting each other a lot more, we’re holding each other more accountable, we’re actually out there having fun,” Hill said. ”I think in earlier games we weren’t trusting each other, playing selfish basketball, wasn’t playing solid defense, and anytime you do that you’re going to lose against a great team like Miami. We showed them that we can be a great team also, and we’re going to try to be a better team on the court by communicating and playing together.”
Notes: Indiana G Dahntay Jones was issued a flagrant foul for hitting James in the head on a shot attempt. … Pacers F Jeff Foster announced before the game that he would retire because of back issues. The team showed a highlight video of his 13-year career during a break in the action during the second quarter. He received a standing ovation. … A basket by Indiana F David West in the second quarter was taken off the board minutes later because officials reviewed it and determined that it came after the shot clock went off. … Wade got his 600th career block in the first half. He had four blocks in the game.