Knocking them out of a regular season game at home isn't quite the same as knocking them out of the playoffs, but the Pacers should nevertheless be very happy with their performance last tonight after topping the defending champs 87-77 in Indiana.
They were able to do it without Danny Granger, the team's top scorer over the past five seasons (as well as with a sick and ineffective George Hil)l, because of Paul George, who exploded in the second half and finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds while "holding" Lebron James to a "quiet" 21 points, 10 rebounds and 7 turnovers.
The Pacers started out strong before Dwyane Wade took over in the second quarter, giving Pacers fans flashbacks to game 6 of last year's conference semifinals when D-Wade poured in 41 to send the Pacers home for the summer. Wade had 23 points in the first half in this game and was practically unstoppable but only had 7 points in the second half as Lance Stephenson did a great job of locking him down.
Speaking of Lance, he has proven himself to be a valuable member of the team. I dumped on this kid as much as anyone else through his troubles, but "Born Ready" has shown that he is finally ready to contribute on a nightly basis. He had 7 points early before foul trouble landed him on the bench for most of the first half, and had two massive three-pointers in the third quarter to put the Pacers back up on top after the Heat looked like they were going to start running away with it.
It was, in the end, a total team effort. David West hasn't been very "beast" lately, but his 14 points and 11 boards, including 5 on the offensive end, was key for the Pacers. Roy Hibbert, of course, struggled wth his shot again, but finished with 6 points and 14 rebounds, including 9 offensive.
In fact, it was probably the offensive rebounding and second chance points that allowed the Pacers to hold on in the end. The Pacers were +19 against the Heat on the glass and grabbed 22 offensive rebounds, the most Miami has given up this season.
And don't for a second think that the Heat were not taking this game seriously. Lebron said they were getting ready for the game because the Pacers were saying that they were the better team in the playoffs last year. The Heat's big three actually was pretty ready, but their bench really stunk.
The Pacers' bench, on the other hand, didn't stink as bad as they usually do, outscoring their counterparts 25-8. DJ Augustin had another solid game with increased minutes due to Hill's illness, dishing out 8 assists and closing yet another game out with impeccable free throw shooting down the stretch. Ian Mahinmi has been up and down and couldn't hit a jump shot on the night, but his size and defensive presence was a huge reason why the Heat scored a season low 77 points. I'm finally beginning to see his value.
As for Gerald Green, he didn't shoot or defend particularly well, but he had a couple of jaw-dropping alley-oops (one was a lay-up) and a ridiculous, out-of-this-world rejection on Mario Chalmers on the fast break. He is what he is -- unreliable but spectacular.
Anyway, with the Hawks losing to the Wolves tonight, the 21-14 Pacers have sneaked up into the third seed. They will play the New York Knicks tomorrow night at home with Reggie Miller calling the plays on national TV. The Pacers catch another break as the Knicks will be without Carmelo Anthony, who will be serving his one game suspension for trying to "talk" to Kevin Garnett after their game the other night. The Knicks are also apparently easing Amare Stoudemire back into playing shape and will limit his minutes, so the Pacers really have no excuse for this one.
PS: Coach Frank Vogel received an undisclosed contract extension. Good for him. He has earned it.