The Indiana Pacers pulled out a 97-93 victory over the Miami Heat in game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, stealing home court advantage from the defending champs and heading home with a 1-1 split in this 7-game series. Like game 1, the Pacers were up in the dying seconds, but this time they held on for the victory, courtesy of two Lebron James turnovers -- both coming off the outstretched 7'4" wingspan of David West, who also gave the Pacers the go-ahead basket before George Hill closed it out with 4 mega clitch free throws (he had been 0-3 from the line up to that point).
It was another team effort. Roy Hibbert was dominant, scoring a career playoff high 29 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, including 6 on the offensive end. The Pacers got creative in getting the big fella the ball, with many entry passes coming as Hibbert was cutting into the lane rather than isolation post plays.
Paul George was spectacular with 22 points and the dunk of the playoffs, posterizing Chris Andersen with a sick and-one slam just before the end of the third quarter (not to be outdone, LeBron comes back and hits a 35-foot three-pointer at the buzzer).
George Hill was clutch late and shot 6-8 from the field. West and Lance Stephenson had relatively poor games (Stephenson in particular was out of control on a couple of occasions), but both contributed on the box score and made huge plays down the stretch. Stephenson got clubbered by a Dwyane Wade flying elbow on the fast break and there wasn't even a foul call. Inadvertent or reckless or intentional, it will be interesting to see if league officials review it and whether they issue a punishment for Wade. My guess is he won't get suspended because he is D-Wade. Last year's shove on Darren Collison didn't get him tossed, so I doubt he will for this. Because he's D-Wade. Stephenson is one tough cookie though, Remember the elbow he got to the neck from Dexter Pittman?
No matter what happens from here on, no one can deny that these Indiana Pacers are really really good. Maybe not as good as the defending champs, but it's clear that they are legitimate title contenders. And just because the Heat probably have the better team and definitely have the best player on the planet, it doesn't mean the Pacers can't win this series. As we have seen through two games, this is going to be a tight series and a bounce here or there can swing things around dramatically. With a bit (OK, a lot of) luck, the Pacers can beat the Heat. Even if they can't, just getting people to wonder if they can is already better than what most people expected out of them.
What should be clear is that this year's Pacers team is better than last year's, even without Danny Granger. Roy Hibbert has picked the right time to become as good as he's ever been. David West is healthier, fitter and more familiar with his teammates, as is George Hill, who has continued to develop into a very solid starting point guard in this league. And of course, Paul George and Lance Stephenson's development (thanks to Granger's absence) has been astronomical. Oh, and Frank Vogel is a more experienced coach too.
Pacers fans ought to be excited because this team is only starting to scratch the surface of its full potential. Paul George, if he isn't one already, will become one of the superstars of this league. I am confident theAll-NBA Third Team 23 year old will work on his offensive game during this offseason and become a beast at both ends of the floor next season. Hibbert, Hill and Stephenson are all still young and will all keep improving. And Danny Granger could be back next year or be converted into some valuable bench assets. The future is bright no matter how this series turns out.
Besides, you never know -- winning it all this year is not out of question yet.