Heat Check: Deng provides offensive boost in victory over Pacers

MIAMI, Fla. — In a battle between two former Eastern Conference powerhouses that went down to the wire Friday night, the Miami Heat emerged victorious against the Indiana Pacers 89-87 after a wild finish.

A furious second half rally by Indiana fell short by the thinnest of margins, with Miami barely hanging on for their first win against the Pacers in three head-to-head games.

Luol Deng led the charge with nine first quarter points to help the Heat race out to an early double-digit lead by showing good ball movement and solid team defense. Indiana showed little fight as the Heat increased their lead to 21 by the second quarter as Chris Bosh took over, scoring four consecutive times on the way to 15 first half points.

Despite playing Roy Hibbert, Luis Scola, David West, and George Hill, the Pacers hardly resembled their former selves as star forward Paul George continues to rehab his right leg. Once the hallmark of their success, their porous defense continuously allowed penetration to the paint and little resistance at the rim for most of the game. Without a reliable go-to scorer, their offense appeared to not be potent enough to overcome their defensive issues.

But it was Miami’s second half struggles that re-appeared once again, however, while the Pacers found success by attacking the basket more frequently with a smaller lineup. The Heat’s 20-point lead near the end of the third quarter gradually whittled down to just a four-point lead with less then three minutes remaining and then a single point with 98 seconds left.

Dwyane Wade struggled with his shot all night, and tried too hard to lead his team in crunch time with difficult shots instead of passing the ball to look for a better shot. The Pacers had multiple shots to tie or take the lead but couldn’t capitalize, with Wade able to knock down one free throw with six seconds remaining for the final winning margin.

“The bounce finally goes our way for a change,” said Bosh. “We really needed it bad. They had all the momentum for all of the whole fourth quarter really.”

Instead of a feel-good blowout game, the Heat secured the victory but still remain having serious problems securing a lead or coming back from games in the second half.

Heat 89, Pacers 87

“Well, we had a bounce at the end, but there were so many good things going on in this game,” said head coach Erik Spoelstra. “Then they made a big momentum push there in the last six minutes of the fourth quarter and really sped up the game, which is what we were trying to do.

”(There were) a lot of good things that I liked that we were trying to accomplish today, and those other things we’ll get better at.”

Indiana has now lost seven straight and are four games back from the eighth and final playoff seed in the East. Miami improves their record to 19-24 overall and 8-13 at home.

THE TURNING POINT

Indiana scored nine straight points to close the third quarter as part of a 17-2 run over the course of seven minutes to get within five points. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Deng boosted the lead temporarily back to double-digits but it wasn’t enough to stop Indiana’s momentum for the close finish.

THE DIFFERENCE MAKER

Deng was almost a late scratch for the game due to illness but instead was a badly-needed offensive force with 23 points on an efficient 9-for-13 shooting. Miami improves to 7-0 when Deng scores at least 20 points in a game.

STAT OF THE GAME

Miami’s aggressive defense set the tone early for the game and forced 14 turnovers in the first half — tying a season-high for a Heat opponent in either half.

The Heat visit the Chicago Bulls on Sunday at 1:00 p.m.

You can follow Surya Fernandez on Twitter @SuryaHeatNBA or email him at SuryaFoxSports@gmail.com.