In My Opinion

Greg Cote: No reason to doubt Miami Heat after Game 1 loss to Indiana Pacers

 
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Miami Heat guard Dwayne Wade passes under the basket in the second quarter against Indiana in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Sunday, May 18, 2014.
Miami Heat guard Dwayne Wade passes under the basket in the second quarter against Indiana in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Sunday, May 18, 2014.
Al Diaz / Staff photo
WEB VOTE How concerned are you following the Heat's Game 1 loss to the Pacers?

gcote@ MiamiHerald.com

Heat players left the court here when it was over Sunday to a raucous howl of laughter, mocking derision and unkind gestures from Pacers fans, but the losing players did so stoically, businesslike, eyes straight forward, and without the smallest inkling of panic.

The Heat is made for this.

This — being down and doubted — is what has steeled these guys in the Big 3 era and propelled them all the way to this chase for a third consecutive championship.

That’s why any Heat fan feeling overly concerned coming out of this Game 1 loss in the Eastern Conference finals either has not been paying attention or is suffering memory loss.

Miami is 7-0 since LeBron James’ arrival in a game immediately following a playoff loss of 11 or more points.

Miami is 4-0 in Game 2 of a series after losing the opener.

That guarantees nothing heading to Tuesday’s game back here after the Pacers led wire-to-wire Sunday and won 107-96. But it is an indicator.

This is a team that adjusts and responds.

Have you stopped believing that? And, if so, why?

The two-time defending champs have earned every inch and ounce of that benefit of doubt.

“We’re a confident team,” said Dwyane Wade — and he said that not before but after a game in which the Pacers barreled to a quick 7-0 lead and never looked back. “And we’re a team that understands where and why we lost a game.”

The Heat cannot play much worse defensively. Start there.

This game wasn’t lost because coach Erik Spolestra surprised us by keeping Shane Battier as his fifth starter and not deploying Udonis Haslem from the beginning, as expected, to match up with Roy Hibbert. That was a factor, no doubt. I’d be surprised if Haslem didn’t start Tuesday.

But the correctable of poor defense explains this loss better, and quicker.

“You tell me we score 96 in this building and over 50 in the paint, I’d say we’d be in the driver’s seat with anything close to a normal defense,” as Spoelstra put it.

The 107 points were the most the Pacers have scored this postseason and the most Miami has a allowed. For a Heat franchise that prides itself on defense-first, it was embarrassing at times.

Chris Bosh afterward was asked what went wrong and gave the inquisitor a look of incredulity.

“Isn’t it pretty obvious,” he said. “It seemed liked [Indiana] could pretty much score at any time.”

The big adjustment will be Miami defending Indiana’s pick-and-rolls.

“Going into Game 2 we’ll be more mentally prepared for their actions,” said James. “They did a great job and exploited us.”

More than bad defense conspired.

When Wade (27) and LeBron (25) shoot a combined 23 for 36 and still Miami loses big, look around and find blame just about everywhere.

The Heat went to the free-throw line only 15 times, to Indiana’s 37.

Miami’s rebound disadvantage was 38-29.

And the Heat were a meager 6 for 23 (26 percent) on three-point shots, a killer.

“We had enough good looks,” said Spoelstra.

LeBron reiterated that and added, “The three-point shot is a big thing for our team, and no one had it going.”

Bosh, misfiring all game, led the three-ball ineptitude at 0 for 5. Although, other than James and Wade, and Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Ray Allen off the bench, everybody played lousy for the Heat.

What’s rather amazing — and something that should get Heat fans in off the ledge — is that Miami somehow was within single-digits on the road early in the fourth quarter despite the awful defense, the negligible Bosh, the huge free-throw differential and the litany of clanking, boinking 3’s.

Miami in the Big 3 era always has seemed to play better when challenged or angry, and both of those elements are in play here now.

A Pacers franchise that has won zero NBA titles in its history is very loud for a club with such a quiet résumé.

Before this game Lance Stephenson targeted Wade’s health, saying, “I think his knee is kind of messed up, so I got to be extra aggressive and make him run. Make his knee flare up.”

Wade declined to respond to that before the game but answered in it with his game-high 27 points.

Pacers home games against Miami are designed to stoke the crowd at the Heat’s expense.

The scoreboard video screen Sunday showed a pregame montage of Heat players grinning, laughing, celebrating and holding up trophies, followed by a thunderous, “We have returned to have our vengeance!”

Pacers fans were holding up large images of LeBron and Wade wearing pink bras. The LeBron photo showed him wearing not his trademark white headband, but an Aunt-Jemima-style pink kerchief that seemed rather racist to these eyes.

This is the same opponent whose Roy Hibbert back in December Tweeted, “See you in The Finals,” to LaMarcus Aldridge of Portland. Indiana coach Frank Vogel in the past has called the Heat “the biggest floppers in the NBA.” Recall that Stephenson once yelled “Choke!” at LeBron — which is like somebody who has never won anything yelling “Loser!” at Michael Jordan. And remember it was because of the Pacers that Haslem once took nine stitches above his eye.

Contentiousness always should be anticipated with Heat-Pacers.

Two years ago Miami eliminated Indiana from the playoffs, but it took six games and a rally. Last year’s Eastern finals between the teams took the full seven games. Now the Pacers have drawn what Wade called “first blood” — a phrase almost too close to literal in a no-love-lost rivalry.

It is apparent the Heat bring out the very best in the Pacers.

Count on the opposite being true on Tuesday night.

Read more Greg Cote stories from the Miami Herald

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