Pacers keep pressure on Heat with 90-84 win

Indiana treated Round 1 with Miami like it was a championship

event.

Now it’s time to get ready for the rematch.

Roy Hibbert controlled the middle, scoring 24 points, and Paul

George scored 15 of his 17 points during a second-half scoring

spree that helped the surging Pacers pull away late from the

two-time defending champion Heat 90-84 – on a night Indiana didn’t

come close to playing its best.

”We didn’t play that well in the first half, but we were only

down seven going into the second half,” Hibbert said. ”But we

knew we were going to fight back.”

Nobody has done that better this season than the Pacers, who

improved to 10-2 when trailing at halftime.

But everyone seems to be asking the same question: How good is

Indiana?

The Pacers (19-3) returned home after finishing a five-day road

trip that took them to four of the top five teams in the Western

Conference, and a three-game span in which they beat both of last

year’s finalists – San Antonio and Miami. Indiana’s three losses

have come to teams that are a combined 46-19, all on the road, and

they continue to hold on to the coveted title of NBA’s best

record.

Tuesday night’s win also gave Indiana a three-game lead over the

Heat (16-6) in the Eastern Conference chase for home-court

advantage and extended their franchise-best home start to 10-0.

As for the schedule, it’s not getting much tougher.

After holding four-time MVP LeBron James to nine points and 3 of

11 shooting over the final three quarters, the Pacers play get

back-to-back home games against Charlotte and Detroit before

heading to Miami on Dec. 18. They’ll host Houston two days later

and then play 12 consecutive games against teams currently under

.500.

But it’s that rematch that everyone wants to see.

Win that one and the Pacers will assure themselves of no worse

than a season split, and Miami (16-6) has a better sense of what

they’ll have to do next week, too.

”There are going to be some ups and downs against this team,”

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”They just played better down the

stretch.”

That’s been the Pacers mantra all season, and it was no

different Tuesday.

Before the game, Lance Stephenson acknowledged he was treating

this contest like a championship game – something two of Miami’s

big three, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, downplayed.

The hometown fans were in postseason form, too, booing loudly at

the officials, chanting ”He’s a flopper” on some contestable foul

calls and eventually serenading Miami players with those familiar

chants of ”Beat the Heat.”

It looked a lot like last season’s Eastern Conference finals,

which Miami won in seven games.

Hibbert dominated the middle, scoring nine of Indiana’s first 11

points and making a season-high 10 baskets – most from point-blank

range – despite playing in the second half with a cotton plug in

his injured 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 Miami’s physical double-teams frustrated

George most of the night, but when George finally got free in the

second half, late, he made three big 3-pointers to help the Pacers

pull away. George, the NBA’s No. 4 scorer, finished with 17 points,

three rebounds and four assists.

Chasing George all night apparently took a toll on the Heat.

While James, the league’s No. 2 scorer did get 17 points, 14

rebounds and six assists, he struggled uncharacteristically over

the final 36 minutes – three quarters when Miami failed to top the

20-point mark. Wade also finished with 17 points, while Bosh added

12.

”I thought we brought it tonight,” James said. ”We know

they’re 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.”

Miami never trailed through the first 2 1/2 quarters.

Indiana finally tied the score at 55 on George Hill’s 3 with

8:15 left in the third, and Hibbert gave the Pacers’ the lead,

58-57, on a three-point play 2 minutes later. Miami never tied the

score or retook the lead again as George heated up to keep the Heat

at arm’s length.

”It was fun, it was a real intense game,” George said. ”Both

teams were playing at a high level. You could see an urgency to win

this game tonight.”

NOTES: Singer Justin Timberlake, Jim Courier and Hulman &

Co. CEO Mark Miles were among the familiar faces in the crowd

Tuesday night. … West grabbed his 5,000th career rebound in the

first quarter. … Indiana had a season-high 21 turnovers. …

Miami shot just 42.9 percent from the field and was a dismal 4 of

21 from 3-point range, scoring just 54 points over the final three

quarters. … Indiana improved to 10-2 when trailing at halftime

this season.