Soaked in gamesmanship, the Heat discounted the day and distanced itself from the moment leading up to tipoff. It was all a ruse, posturing and premeditated psychological sandbagging of the highest order.
The Heat wanted this game badly, make no mistake, but the Pacers were simply better Tuesday night and defeated the defending back-to-back champions 90-84.
In the hours before the most anticipated game of the first two months of the regular season for the two best teams in the Eastern Conference — really, the only good teams currently in the Eastern Conference — rhetoric by the Heat and Pacers couldn’t have been more different. The Pacers viewed their first matchup against the Heat since the Eastern Conference finals as a continuation of something important and said as much. The Heat shrugged its collective shoulders and called it just another regular-season game.
But for all the talk of indifference, the Heat clearly was emotionally invested from the beginning. It just wasn’t fundamentally sound at the end.
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“We missed shots and had opportunity after opportunity, and we didn’t capitalize,” said Chris Bosh, who finished with 12 points and three rebounds. “It didn’t stick for us, so we know how the game goes a little bit. We’re going to shoot the ball better, continue to have faith in our shooters when they’re wide open and encourage them to shoot.”
The Pacers entered the game allowing opponents to shoot just 34.9 percent from three-point range. The Heat likely would have won the game had it managed that statistical benchmark. Instead, the Heat’s marksmen missed uncontested shots from distance in bunches, and all that size Heat coach Erik Spoelstra forfeited to go with a smaller, faster and specialized lineup mattered little. Miami was 4 of 21 from three-point range.
That’s 19 percent.
“We had a lot of good looks,” said Shane Battier, who went 1 of 6 from three-point range as a starter and finished with five points. “We had a lot of good looks that will keep me up at night.”
Battier’s struggles seemed to be contagious. Ray Allen didn’t make his first three-pointer until 8.1 seconds remained in the game. By then, the outcome was already decided. He finished 1 of 5 from the field.
Mario Chalmers started the game 2 of 2 from the field, including a three-pointer, but finished 1 of 5 after the Heat’s blistering first-quarter effort.
Rashard Lewis (two), Norris Cole (one), Bosh (three) and Dwyane Wade (one) all attempted three-pointers and missed.
The Heat (16-6) finished its four-game road trip to the tundra of the Midwest 2-2 after a loss to the Bulls to begin the journey. After scoring just 87 points against the Bulls, the Heat’s 84 points against the Pacers (19-3) was a new season low. Led by a furious effort by LeBron James, the Heat opened up shooting 57.1 percent in a 30-point first quarter. Miami finished with a shooting percentage of 42.9.
“They’re a very good team, and they’re off to a great start, and we’re not the team that we want to be in April right now,” James said. “And that’s OK. That’s exactly what we want. We want to continue to get better as we go.”
James finished with 17 points, going 6 of 16 from the field. He was 4 of 6 from the free-throw line and 1 of 4 from three-point range to go along with 14 rebounds and six assists. Defensively, James’ effort against Paul George in the early going was suffocating, but George got it going in the third quarter and finished with 17 points himself. He was 4 of 11 from the field but 3 of 6 from three-point range.
The Heat trailed by four points to begin the fourth quarter, but the Pacers surged ahead, carried by the energy and momentum inside their home arena. George’s three-pointer with 5:19 left gave the Pacers an 81-72 lead, and George celebrated in front of Spoelstra and the Heat’s bench.
“However you want to slice it up going into the fourth quarter, you know it’s going to be competitive, it’s going to be a grind, there are going to be some ups and downs against this team, but they just played better going down the stretch,” Spoelstra said.