For all intents and purposes, these Indiana Pacers had no right challenging the Miami Heat in South Beach. Let's face it. As well as they have been playing against lesser teams recently, no one expected the Pacers to have much of a shot against an almost full strength Heat squad on a 6-game winning streak. This was supposed to be their reality check.
But for most of their 117-112 loss, the Pacers were just as good, if not better than their superstar studded rivals. They played extremely hard against a team miles ahead of them in talent, attacking every play and never giving up. The fact that they thought they had a chance, and the fact that they had a great chance, speaks volumes about how far this team has come since Jim O'Brien was fired. And it was terrific to see how disappointed the team was about losing such a close game. They could have been happy to have pushed a contender this far. But no. There are no moral victories for a team struggling to stay in the playoff race.
This was not the same Miami team the Pacers beat earlier in the year. This Miami team was clicking on all cylinders and looking to avenge that earlier loss in the season. And it took a vintage Lebron James effort -- 41 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists -- including some massive baskets down the stretch -- and a few mental lapses by the Pacers (Danny Granger being blown by when isolated, leading to Roy Hibbert fouling out; and Dahntay Jones's 5-second inbound violation with a chance to tie) for Miami to escape with the win.
Pacers fans must be excited after this game even though it was a loss. 20 and 10 for Hibbert. 19 for Granger. 18 for Hansbrough. 15 and 8 for Collison. They can hold their heads up high.
And as big as this game was, tomorrow's is even bigger. A home game against the Charlotte Bobcats, who are currently half a game ahead of the Pacers for the 8th and final playoff spot in the East. Bring it on.