The Indiana Pacers see themselves as legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference, and after beating the Miami Heat twice in less than a month, everyone else should to, despite Paul George not outplaying LeBron James in the anticipated match-up, while David West was the one to steal the show against the on-the-road struggling Heat.
Paul George on LeBron James? A myth. George is a great defensive player, but when it comes to one on one matchups, there isn’t a player in the NBA who can contain James, half court or open court offense. Out of his 25 possessions, George had a piece of James in 14 of them. LeBron James was 7-for-10 when guarded by George, with five of those seven field goals coming inside 10 feet. Paul George might be quick, athletic and with long arms that help the team defense, but it’s hard to expect of him to stop James when it comes to strength.
The big key for the Pacers (winning 102-89) was transition defense once again: The Heat scored seven transition points Friday, their fourth fewest in a game this season. In Miami’s first game against the Pacers on January 8, it scored a season-low one transition point. The Heat were forced to go to the paint, which is usually a good idea, but they couldn’t get their running game going, in which James and especially Dwyane Wade (17 points, 7-16 from the field) thrive.
The Pacers went inside on their offense, which paid off. Paul George was very disciplined in his shooting, finishing with 15 points on 6-11 from the field, while David West had what was probably his best game of the season, scoring 30 points on 12-15 from the field, not to mention his 7 rebounds and 5 assists, while the Pacers shot an incredible (for them especially) 55.7% from the field, the he second highest percentage they Heat have allowed this season.
West scored 18 of his game-high 30 points in the paint Friday, his most paint points in a game in the last two seasons. West was 6-6 from inside five feet. The Pacers as a team shot 81% from inside 5 feet Friday was the highest the Heat have allowed in a game this season, after allowing teams to shoot 57.1 percent from that distance entering the game. For the Pacers, the 81% was their highest shooting percentage from that distance in the last four seasons, making more field goals from that range than the Heat attempted.
There’s no wonder the Heat are looking for more solutions when it comes to big men: Chris Bosh is struggling this season holding the paint as the Heat attempt both small ball and regular ball options; Udonis Haslem isn’t “bringing it” the way he should on defense, while Spoelstra isn’t trying to shift Bosh back to power forward, mostly thinking about the playoffs and how the Heat played well with him at center in the key moments.
I think the Pacers are playing some really good basketball right now. They’re kind of like us, they play great basketball at home, they kind struggle on the road. It’s like two different teams sometimes. But they have improved and I think the biggest improvement is Paul George. He’s improving, that’s why he’s an All-Star.