INDIANAPOLIS -- For a team that prides itself on playing pesky defense, the Miami Heat couldn’t stop the Indiana Pacers from scoring in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
The Pacers jumped out to a 7-0 lead before Dwayne Wade stopped the bleeding with a mid-range jump shot of his own.
The Pacers never trailed in the game, putting up 55 points in the first half and not looking back en route to a 107-96 win.
“That’s probably us at our worst defensively,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “You have to give [the Pacers] credit.”
Before the game, all the pressure seemed to be on the Pacers, but now, it’s the Heat who face the questions.
Will LeBron James and Dwayne Wade get enough help on offense? Are the Heat big enough to manage Indiana inside? And perhaps most of all, can Miami guard the Pacers, player to player?
Whether it was David West cleverly slipping inside for layups, Roy Hibbert backing Chris Bosh down, Lance Stephenson slashing to the basket, or Paul George and George Hill spotting up for three-pointers, the Heat simply had no answers.
The Pacers shot better than 50 percent from the field and more than 42 percent from three-point range.
All five of their starters scored in double figures.
“It’s a matchup collectively that we have to figure out,” Spoelstra said. “That’s the whole point of competition.
“Our pick-and-roll coverage had a lot of breakdowns, including myself,” added James.
Even Pacers’ backup point guard, C.J. Watson, once undrafted, came in and gave the Heat problems. In just under 18 minutes of action, he scored 11 points on 3 of 4 shooting.
To make matters worse, against a team that got out-rebounded 62-23 in a recent game against the Washington Wizards, the Heat also lost the rebounding battle, 38-29.
All this came after Spoelstra made the surprising decision to start Shane Battier instead of Udonis Haslem, who has historically played well against Indiana.
Spoelstra did go with Haslem in the second half, but neither player was influential in the game.
The Heat’s size disadvantage played a role in the outcome, as Miami reserve center Greg Oden watched the whole game from the bench.
After trailing by as many as 19 points, the Heat tried to make things interesting by cutting the Pacers’ lead to 13 after James scored four quick points and added an assist at the end of the third quarter.
But consecutive stops on the defensive end were too few and far between for the Heat to sustain any real comeback attempt.
“It’s a good start to the series, but it’s just a good start,” Pacers’ head coach Frank Vogel said. “That’s all it is.”