Despite his triple double, there was a feeling LeBron James was being bested on both ends of the floor by Paul George. But on the final play of the game, with 2.2 seconds left to save the Miami Heat from another opening game loss, the best player in the NBA proved once again that all the talk about him shying away from the basket or not shining in clutch situations is a thing best kept in the past.
The Indiana Pacers lost the game because of Frank Vogel making silly decisions regarding his biggest asset on defense – Roy Hibbert. Instead, he left his team exposed in the paint because he feared the shooters the Miami Heat had on the floor, and especially Ray Allen and Chris Bosh, and paid for it by dropping a win that was already in their hands thanks to the ice in the veins of Paul George.
There was a moment, a single moment, when people actually worried that James’ layup was taken after the buzzer went off. But the replays showed he took the shot with 0.4 seconds still on the clock, blazing by George after being unsuccessful in that aspect for long periods of the game as both Allen and Bosh cleared the path by drawing away the help defender. Finishing with 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, James won the opener 103-102 but also became the first player in playoff history to record a triple double while also hitting a game winning shot.
It didn’t go as planned for Miami, giving up 17 offensive rebounds and turning the ball over 20 times. But they got just about enough from the guys around James in order to create mini breaks that kept them ahead for certain stretches in the second half, and have the feeling of some control against a Pacers team that exposed a lot of problems and mismatches, but failed in key moments during the game they should have won.
One heroic medal goes to Chris Andersen, finishing with 16 points on a perfect shooting night: Seven-for-seven from the field and adding two more free throws, giving the Heat during his 18 minutes the ability to crash the boards (16 offensive rebounds) and make the most in the paint after drawing Hibbert away. All of their pick & rolls (the Heat used that play on more than 30% of their possessions) weren’t always perfect, but they did get better as the game moved on.
Dwyane Wade was limited because of his knee, which does provide bad news for the rest of the series, but was excellent in almost everything he did during his 41 minutes. He scored 19 points on 9-of-15 from the field, adding 3 steals and 5 assists, willing to drive to the basket against Roy Hibbert when it looked like LeBron preferred to take contested jump shots that stopped falling after the first quarter.
Nobody in the NBA has made more game-tying and go-ahead shots in the final 24 seconds of playoff games than LeBron James, making 7-of-16 in those situations. That 43.8% ranks the best in the NBA since his rookie season among players with at least 10 attempts. He had a layup that gave the Heat the lead with 11 seconds to go, before Paul George hit three from the line which sent Wade out of the game.
The Heat found a way into the Pacers’ paint eventually, making 72.2% of their field goal attempts from close range during the fourth quarter and overtime. They outscored the Pacers 40-26 in the paint in the 2nd half and overtime, as they finally found an answer to David West (27 points), and especially enjoyed LeBron James being much more aggressive during the fourth quarter and overtime, driving to the basket more than he did in the first three. A lot of it, especially his two lead-giving and eventual game-winning layups, had to do with Roy Hibbert not being on the court.