Paul George wasn’t around much last season to give the Miami Heat nightmares like he had so many times before in classic playoff battles.
George, now fully recovered from a gruesome leg injury he sustained during a scrimmage with Team USA, reminded the Heat on Friday night why it hates coming to Indiana.
He scored a season-high 36 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and played lock-down defense on Dwyane Wade, leading Indiana to a 90-87 victory at Bankers Field House.
Wade, who had scored 20 or more points in five consecutive games to start the season, finished with nine points on 4-of-15 shooting and was scoreless in second half. He missed all seven shots he took in the second half, including an air ball three-point attempt that would have sent the game to overtime.
“It was just one of those nights they weren’t going to let me turn the corner, be in the paint,” Wade said. “This team protects the paint very well and they try to make sure you can’t turn the corner. I knew it was going to be a tough night once I saw what their defensive scheme was.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Wade sought an explanation from officials because both felt Wade had been hit on his arm as he released the Heat’s final shot. But nothing they heard was satisfying.
“It doesn’t matter [what the ref said] because it wasn’t called,” Spoelstra said. “We had enough opportunities down the stretch to make plays and we didn’t.”
Wade also missed a tough jumper with 50.9 seconds remaining with the Heat down by a bucket. Jordan Hill, who finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds off the bench for the Pacers, then tipped-in a George miss between Heat center Hassan Whiteside and Chris Bosh to give Indiana an 88-84 lead.
Bosh led the Heat with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Whiteside finished with 8 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks.
Whiteside was shoved in the back by George after he ran into him back down the court in the fourth quarter. Officials reviewed the exchange and handed out double technicals. Whiteside wasn’t sure why. He said he didn’t say a word to George.
“I’m just trying to go back [on defense] and I felt somebody holding my arm and I just pulled my arm back,” Whiteside said. “Every possession somebody was holding me and I just pulled my arm. I didn’t even look at who it was. It didn’t make any difference. But it was Paul George.
“It wasn’t any big deal to me. It happens.”
Winning back-to-backs in the NBA isn’t easy. The Heat did it only three times last season in 17 tries — all in November when Wade and Bosh were healthy. Friday, Miami let a 13-point second lead slip away and fell to 3-3. The Heat will now play seven in a row at home.
Except for having to face the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, it’s a highly favorable schedule for the Heat, which plays a heavy dose of road games in January.
“The only thing I can think about is we have to have urgency with this seven-game homestand because that just means there’s a seven-game road trip coming up,” Bosh said. “It’s eventually going to even up. We’ve been talking about this, having all these home games before the New Year.
“We have to make sure we take advantage of it, protect home court. I think if we do that it will put us in really good position to make a move.”
Josh McRoberts, who was only 1-of-5 with two points in the first five games, had his best night of the season. The Indianapolis native helped jump-start a 7-0 Heat run to open the fourth quarter with a three-pointer and then a scoop on a drive to the basket. He also had some nice chemistry with Bosh.
But the Pacers, who have won three in a row after starting the season 0-3, rallied to take the lead behind George, who made a series of tough shots with Heat defenders in his face. George hit a tough fadeaway jumper while getting fouled by Mario Chalmers on one shot and then hit another jumper over rookie Justise Winslow and the outstretched arms of Whiteside.
The Pacers grabbed a 71-68 lead after three quarters in large part because they outscored Miami 12-2 in the paint. The Heat had outscored Indiana in the paint 30-14 through the first two quarters.
Playing in Indiana hasn’t been fun for the Heat over the years. Miami has now lost eight in a row here and is 13-50 all-time, including the playoffs.
The Pacers roster has undergone a transformation in the last year, morphing from a team that used to play power basketball with center Roy Hibbert (traded to the Lakers) and David West (signed with San Antonio) to a smaller, spread attack.
Bosh, who had wished George well during his recovery last season and vice-versa when Bosh was hospitalized, said George looked like the same player who has plagued the Heat for years.
“He put them on his back,” Bosh said. “They ran so many actions for him. He was making it tough. He’s a physical, long guard and he mismatches. He went down to the post, capitalized. He played amazing off the screen-and-roll, got his team involved and of course he was putting the ball in the basket. I didn’t wish him well tonight, but it looks like he’s back to being himself.”
▪ To celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the movie Hoosiers starring Gene Hackman, the Pacers wore Hickory Huskers uniforms. Throughout Friday’s game the stadium announcer referred to the Pacers as Hickory.