We witnessed something on Wednesday night. No, not the lay-up or phenomenal 30-10-10 game by LeBron James, but that the Pacers did not get here by luck and are deserving of being in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Indiana Pacers were neck and neck with the world champions for over 48 minutes in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals vs. the Miami Heat. The young basketball team proved to have a solid chin, taking every haymaker the champs could throw and effectively countering, forcing the champs to play the Pacers’ brand of hard-nosed basketball.
What looked to be a decided advantage for the Pacers backfired, and now this team known for its lunch-bucket approach to the game will look to reclaim its identity tonight in Game 2.
The most glaring aspect was that the notoriously tough Pacers were out-hustled by the smaller Heat squad. Every memorable loose ball and every important rebound was snagged by the home team. The clear sign that Miami had the toughness edge was when Roy Hibbert actually complained about the dirty nature of Shane Battier‘s knee on Twitter.
Where was the team that was known as the Bullies of the Eastern Conference? The team that asserts their dominance on the glass was barely won the rebound battle, edging the Heat 43-38 on the boards. Lance Stephenson, who was a terror during the New York Knicks series, was a total non-factor. Hibbert seemed to be bothered by the quickness and didn’t assert himself as the monster he was during the previous series.
Identity and tempo will contribute greatly to determining who wins this series. The Pacers have already established that they will be Miami’s toughest competition so far. Now the only thing left for them to prove is if they can force the Heat to play and continue to beat them at the lunch pail stats. We will see tonight.