Just as the narrative was turning on them, the Pacers delivered a haymaker, routing the Heat, 107-96, in a convincing Game 1 victory.
5 things to know
A strong opening, for once
From training camp through the All-Star Game, the Indiana Pacers went through the season with a single-minded focus on capturing the top seed in the East that was at once admirable and convincing. The Pacers truly believed that if they could face the Heat with homecourt advantage, they would win the series. Few would have argued with them.
Now we can see why. The Pacers led Game 1 from start to finish, and if not for the angst of the last few months, people would have been calling this what it was: a blowout. Relying on a balanced and efficient offensive attack, the Pacer lead grew to as many as 19 points late in the third quarter. They were tested at times, but never truly threatened.
After fighting uphill for so long, Indiana now finds itself in unfamiliar territory heading into Game 2. How the Pacers handle that challenge may very well define the rest of the series. This is their moment to dispel all the doubts, rumors and innuendo that have plagued them for the last few months. But if they get complacent and head back to Miami with a split, the opening game will be as much of a distant memory as their early-season success. -Paul Flannery
Time for Miami to get defensive
If you had to pick one aspect of the Heat's season most troubling in the context of competing for a title, the defense would be choices No. 1 through 3. Miami ranked No. 11 in defense in the regular season; most notably, LeBron didn't go nearly as hard on that end as he had in the last couple of years. It came home to roost on Sunday, as the Pacers -- a team not exactly known for its offensive execution -- roasted Miami to the tune of a .574 effective field goal percentage.
LeBron himself struggled defensively. The Heat started Shane Battier, which put James on David West early. The brawny power forward took advantage early and often. Udonis Haslem played more in the second half, but Paul George took his turn spinning LeBron around. Certainly King James will fight back and leave a major mark on this series, and his defense should improve now that Miami sees this won't be a cakewalk.
The problem for Miami is getting defense elsewhere. Mario Chalmers couldn't do anything to slow George Hill. Lance Stephenson toyed with Dwyane Wade like a cat torturing a dying spider. And Chris Bosh, bless him, got destroyed by Roy Hibbert in the paint. If Indiana is going to party like this, Miami's defense needs to sharpen up quick. Just imagine what an offense like the Spurs or Thunder would have done to the Heat on Sunday. -Tom Ziller
Good Lance dominates
It was always easy to imagine the Lance Stephenson-Dwyane Wade matchup turning into its own kind of Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vadar light saber battle, pitting a brash up-and-comer against the reigning leader of Eastern Conference shooting guards. That was even before Stephenson decided to bait Wade prior to the opening tip of the series.
"D. Wade, his knee is kind of messed up, so I have to be extra aggressive and make him run," Stephenson said on Saturday. "Tell coach [Frank Vogel] to run ‘Floppy’ and run him around and make his knee flare up or something. Do anything possible so the games will come easier for us."
Wade missed 28 games during the regular season, but the added rest and relaxation was always with an eye on the bigger picture. Wade looked great offensively on Sunday in Game 1, following up a 28-point closeout game against the Nets by hanging 27 points on the Pacers.
But he didn't exactly have an answer for Stephenson when Indiana had the ball. Stephenson displayed a full offensive skillset, getting to the rim, setting up teammates and knocking down jumpers on his way to 17 points and eight assists on 8-of-12 shooting. It's a good sign for Indiana. The self-confidence of the 23-year-old guard helps define the Pacers in a way, and there's no doubt that Stephenson believes he can match Wade blow-for-blow.
If LeBron vs. Paul George is the main event, Lance and Wade is a hell of an undercard. If one comes out consistently hitting harder than the other, it'll decide the series. -Ricky O'Donnell
Not like a Bosh
Since the formation of The Big Three, Chris Bosh has been the underappreciated third wheel. But Erik Spoelstra has routinely called him the Heat's most important player, and on most nights, it's easy to see why the coach says it. Bosh's ability to effectively defend pick-and-rolls is paramount to Miami's defensive success, and the addition of a reliable three-point shot makes the Heat even more lethal offensively.
Unfortunately for the Heat, that Bosh didn't show up to Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Sunday. Bosh entered the Eastern Conference Finals shooting close to 49 percent from three, and the Heat hoped that would help force Roy Hibbert away from the basket. But that didn't pan out, as Bosh missed all five of his three-pointers, including two good looks in the early going that set the tone for his poor performance. In addition to his woeful shooting, Bosh managed just two rebounds in 32 minutes and struggled to contain Hibbert and David West. Both Pacers big men had 19 points, and Bosh finished with zero blocks, four fouls and a team-worst -16.
This is a game Bosh will want to forget as soon as possible. Miami is hoping this version of its star big man doesn't show up again this series. -Jason Patt
So much for those roster upgrades
The Indiana Pacers are a study in addition by subtraction.
They added Andrew Bynum and Evan Turner over the course of the season, then lost their mojo, struggling down the stretch and in the first round against the Atlanta Hawks.
Then, Bynum -- who had been hurt, but still with the team -- realized his knee injuries were too serious to allow a return this year. Since his departure? Look at the picture to the right.
Then, Evan Turner, who averaged a whopping 2.2 points against the Wizards, went down with "strep throat" and didn't dress for Game 1. The result? A WIN AGAINST THE DAMN TWO-TIME DEFENDING CHAMPS.
This Pacers are basketball exorcists. You might say Turner and Bynum had little to do with their lackluster play earlier... but can you really be sure? -Rodger Sherman
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. San Antonio Spurs Western Conference Final, Game 1Series tied, 0-09 p.m. ET | TNT AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas