Count on the Miami Heat to put on a show.
For those who remained at the American Airlines Arena long enough before hitting up the lively Monday night scene, they were given the Heat’s most dramatic showing yet in the ‘Big Three’ era. Dragged to the ninth level of Hell before reaching the right-hand of Zeus’s throne, Miami did everything in their power to keep their Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers interesting.
And just when we thought the Pacers were going to steal it away, LeBron James made the narrative turn one last time. This time coming in a fashion that would leave the crowd perspiring with a combination of tears, sweat and overwhelming joy that’s going to take days to wash off.
After Paul George made three free throws following a questionable foul by Dwyane Wade on a three-point attempt with 2.2 seconds left in overtime, James took advantage of some questionable defense by George on the perimeter to get into the lane for a layup at the buzzer to give Miami a Game 1 103-102 victory.
James scored Miami’s final four points in overtime, finishing with 30 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds and three blocks in nearly 47 minutes worth of playing time. He inbounded with 2.2 seconds left at the top of the perimeter, took advantage of George, who seemed to be expecting a jumper and allowed James to drive, and got to the rim for a layup at the buzzer.
Ten seconds before, LeBron hit a layup to give Miami a two-point lead. But Miami, as they did on so many occasions tonight, couldn’t close the door and allowed George to get three free throws after a scramble for a loose ball.
Norris Cole originally stole the ball, but unwisely tried to outlet it to Wade. The ball ended up in the hands of George, who had earlier hit a miraculous 30-foot three-pointer to send the game into overtime.
It was another instance of Miami leaving the door open. Miami had Ray Allen at the line for two free throws with a two-point lead and 17 seconds remaining, only to see Allen go 1-for-2.
The Heat collectively shot 64 percent on 25 attempts from the foul line. It also didn’t help for the Heat to collectively shoot 28 percent from beyond the arc, capped off by Shane Battier and Ray Allen combining for some more grotesque numbers in the form of 1-of-12 shooting overall and 1-of-8 shooting from deep.
LeBron James and Mario Chalmers each hit two three-pointers. It’s tough to space out the offense when the shooters aren’t making the shots that lead to floor being spaced.
Chris Andersen supported the bench with 16 points on a perfect 7-of-7 from the field, as well as five rebounds and three blocks in only 18 minutes. Cole, Allen and Battier combined for nine points.
Dwyane Wade, who hit the layup that should have helped to give Miami a regulation victory, finished with 19 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Neither team was able to create any sort of breathing room throughout the night, with the biggest leads being a five-point lead by Miami and a seven-point lead by Indiana. The two teams exchanged offensive and defensive answers throughout, before reaching its climax with LeBron hitting the game-winner.
Turnovers and fouls played heavy roles. The two teams combined for 40 turnovers, 20 apiece, and 58 fouls, including enough to foul out Dwyane Wade and five apiece on LeBron and Shane Battier.
Every Pacers’ starter had at least four personal fouls. Referees nearly decided the outcome of the game when allowing George to get to the line on minimal contact, but were bailed out by LeBron.
The Pacers had 30 fouls to Miami’s 28, but took seven more free throws and scored eight more points at the line. But Miami certainly didn’t help themselves with possibly the worst collective free-throw shooting performance of the season.
Miami also nearly found themselves devoid of hope after falling behind by three after George made a miracle of a layup that defied the laws of nature and physics. The Heat proceeded to miss consecutive three-points attempts, but were eventually bailed out by Chris Bosh’s and-one tip-in that tied the game.
That offensive rebound was one of only two rebounds from Bosh on the night. He did have 17 points on 11 shots and two blocks, though. His presence on the boards, however, was depressingly lacking and cannot be a consistent theme of the series.
The Pacers were led by Paul George’s 27 points on 16 shots and David West’s 26 points, 18 coming in the first half as he led Indiana’s early interior onslaught in the first half to give them a 42-37 lead heading into the half.
Indiana also got 19 points and nine rebounds, seven offensive, from Roy Hibbert. While the Pacer frontcourt was able to flourish, the backcourt’s support was non-existent as Miami’s pressure on the ball-handler forced George Hill and Lance Stephenson into disappearances.
Those two combined for 12 points on 4-of-19 shooting overall and 0-of-7 shooting from deep. Those two, and George, combined for 13 of Indiana’s 20 turnovers.
When it seemed that Paul George was going to be the unexpected hero, and the latest contestant in the roulette game known as “Who’s the next humble player we can hope bests LeBron”, James came through and performed his usual Jamesian antics to make sure that no humble player is rewarded and no underdog gets their spot in the sun for a day.
The last-second layup was the second buzzer-beating game-winner of LeBron’s postseason career, with the first being the three-pointer he hit against the Orlando Magic while still a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The context of that game was important as Cleveland could have gone down 2-0 in the series with two games against Orlando awaiting. This game-winner tonight, however, was the type of shot that absolutely rips out the heart of your opponent for future games.
Indiana really thought they had this. Like Miami had in regulation, Indiana had several opportunities to put this away, but kept the door open and allowed the Heat to work their way back into it in the final minute.
And the high from those Paul George free throws? Gone. The prospect of getting the difficult challenge of winning on the road out of the way? Throw it away.
Indiana will have Game 2, but there are only so many chances a team will get to win on the road in playoffs, especially in a location like Miami.
Game 2 takes place Friday at 8:30 Pm.