Apologies for the tardiness is reporting what must surely be the biggest story for the Pacers this season (the only thing close enough to challenge is the 54-point third quarter against the Nuggets). As I write this, the Pacers are also annihilating the Cleveland Cavaliers, so it looks like it won't be a letdown tonight.
Okay, so the Pacers took their talents to South Beach to face the infamous Big Three of the Miami Heat in a game few expected them to win. Sure, Darren Collison was back, but so was Dwyane Wade. The Pacers had struggled against the Heat when it was just Wade and a bunch of scrubs, so naturally everyone expected them to lose when you add the two-time MVP and one of the NBA's top five PFs to the team.
Instead, after a closely contested first quarter, the Pacers blew the game apart. The Pacers outscored the Heat 35-19 in the second quarter and never looked back.It was surreal, to be honest. The whole time, I expected the Heat to make a run for it with their big stars and that the Pacers would eventually falter down the stretch, but the fears were unfounded. In the end, the Pacers cruised to a 93-77 win, handing the new-look Heat their worst loss of the season (their other five losses came at a combined 20 points).
Everything that needs to be said about this game is probably said elsewhere, so I'll just throw in my two cents worth of observations.
1. The truth is, this game is more a reflection of how badly the Heat are playing as opposed to how well the Pacers are playing. The Pacers missed their fair share of shots too (41% FGs), but it was their defense that allowed them to get the win. Have to give credit where it's due -- Jim O'Brien did a great job of getting the team ready for Miami's pick and roll offense.
2. Granger struggled with his shot (6-21) but played an all-round game and led by example on defense. He had 20 points, 11 boards, 6 assists, 3 steals and a block, leading the team in all categories.
3. The other guy that is finally starting to shine, and really, played best offensively out of everyone, was Brandon Rush. He took the ball to the rim (apparently he worked really hard on that during the offseason) and tore apart the Heat defense from the inside and out. Rush had 20 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists on 9-15 shooting. This is what we need to see from Brandon every night, and he has the talent to do it.
4. Darren Collison returned, pushing AJ Price back to the inactive list. Unfair, in my opinion, because Price has been playing sensationally, but O'Brien refuses to play three PGs. I would have preferred to give Ford's minutes to Price, but TJ was great against the Heat (13 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists in 26 minutes, and was the spark for the Pacers' run in the second) so I can't really complain.
5. Jeff Foster is struggling with back problems again so Solomon Jones returned to the lineup. And guess what? He decided to rebound for a change! Solo grabbed 10 boards (including 3 offensive) in 21 minutes. Yes, the Heat front court is soft, but Solo proved that if he really wants to, he can be a factor on the glass. Well done.
6. Dwyane Wade had probably the worst shooting night of his career, going 1-13 from the field. In all honesty his premature return probably helped the Pacers.
At the end of the day, it's just one win, but it's a big one. I hope this will be a 'spark' game and a 'realization' game for the Pacers. I hope this win will spark them onto more victories as they realize that they are actually a pretty damn good team if they play together, play defense, and play the right way. Of course, there will still be nights where they forget that and struggle, but there's no bigger confidence builder right now than beating Lebron, D-Wade and Bosh in Miami. Well, maybe until they play the Lakers on the 28th.