Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Indiana Pacers make sure they make it a series with Miami Heat

Published on Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Special to The Miami Herald

Lance Stephenson said after the Pacers loss Sunday, where he was held to seven points and one rebound, he felt he needed to show people he was up to the challenge of facing the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.

In Game 4 Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Stephenson redeemed himself with his second-biggest offensive output of the playoffs.

His 20-point effort was critical in Indiana’s 99-92 win, tying the series at 2-2.

“I watched a lot of film, and I told myself I’m going to be aggressive,” Stephenson said. “If I’m not aggressive, we’re not the team that we are tonight. I take whatever they give me. If they give me the jumper, I’ll take it. I just have to be in attack mode.”

Stephenson’s midrange jumper with just less than four minutes left to play tied the score at 89-all, sending a message that he was not quite done.

With the Pacers clinging to a 94-92 lead, he hit a floating jumper that bounced off the rim and dropped in with a little more than a minute left to give Indiana a two-possession lead.
With a rejuvenated Stephenson and the continued strong play of Roy Hibbert, the Pacers regrouped to the form that made them nearly invincible at home in the playoffs.

“I couldn’t even sleep last night,” Stephenson said. “My teammates were on me. I didn’t play up to my abilities the last game. I felt [Tuesday] I had to show everybody that I’m ready for any competition and any challenge that comes to me.”
Indiana coach Frank Vogel said beyond Stephenson’s 20 points, he did all the little things players like him needs to do help the Pacers win.

“I think he made some great loose-ball plays in terms of offensive rebounds,” Vogel said. “I believe the biggest play of the game was Roy Hibbert’s offensive rebound and one [with 1:30 left in the game.] I think Lance was crashing the board, too, and occupied Roy’s man so he could get open. Those were big plays.”

An example of Stephenson’s re-emergence came in the third quarter after the Heat regained the lead.

A critical tip-in of a missed shot near the six minute mark cut Miami’s lead to one point. That allowed the Pacers to take back the lead moments at 61-60 later on a David West jumper with 5:35 left.

When Indiana needed a basket at the end of the third, Hill found Stephenson in the left corner, where he spotted up and drilled the three-point jumper to lift the Pacers to a 77-70 lead going into the fourth quarter.

“I was hesitant on my shots before,” Stephenson said. “I have to let the three’s come to me. I was just trying to play hard and smart.”

Hibbert’s continued domination in the paint was expected. Hibbert’s sensational rebound and putback with 1:30 left in the game gave Indiana a 94-89 lead. Hibbert scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the first half on his way to a 23-point, 12-rebound performance.

“We’re mentally tough," Hibbert said. “Not one guy in that locker room didn’t believe we were going to win this game tonight. We showed fortitude and we picked each other up.”

Monday, May 27, 2013

Indiana Pacers doomed by Miami Heat first Gane 3 start

Special to The Miami Herald

It was obvious by halftime that Game 3 in Bankers Life Fieldhouse would not look like the first two contests of the Eastern Conference Championship series — and that was bad news for the Indiana Pacers.

The Miami Heat reeled off a team-record 70 points and forced the Pacers to play from behind in the second half for the first time in the series. In the end, the 70-56 deficit was too big of a hole of dig out of. The 114-96 defeat was the Pacers first playoff loss at home this season.

Miami played better offensively, shooting a sizzling 60 percent from the floor over the first 24 minutes. Udonis Haslem’s 17 points forced Indiana to reevaluate what they were doing defensively. Indiana center Roy Hibbert said he felt pulled in two directions.

“[Haslem] wasn’t making those shots the prior two games,” said Hibbert, who scored 20 points and pulled down 17 rebounds last night. “So I was rotating off him and helping out Paul [George] or rotating on [Chris] Bosh and stuff like that. Now he’s been hitting [them]. I have to play both. I have to stop the roll guy and get out and contest.”

It was a night where the Pacers needed an edge on the boards but the Pacers could not get that until late. Miami held Indiana an even 17-17 on the glass at halftime.

“We didn’t have a great defensive night but it wasn’t horrible,” said Indiana coach Frank Vogel. “It wasn’t as bad as the numbers look. You have to credit Miami for playing a great game.”

Miami’s 114 points were the most the Pacers had given up all playoffs.

More importantly, Indiana didn’t get important contributions from role players like Lance Stephenson. Stephenson pulled down 12 rebounds in Game 1, while scoring 10 points and grabbed eight boards in Game 2.

In Game 3, he scored three points by halftime without a rebound. He finished the game with seven points and one rebound.

“He’s a key to our team,” Vogel said about Stephenson before the game. “We can’t have him passive with the basketball. We are limited when he is that way. He’s got to be in the killer instinct mode at all times and the make great decisions late.”

David West kept the Pacers in the contest early, scoring 16 points, on 6-for-10 shooting, by halftime. But West went 0 for 4 in the third quarter as the Heat stretched its lead to 91-76. He finished the night with 21 points.

West said, however, it will be the Pacers defense that will get them back into the series.
“We feed off of our defense,” West said. “If our defensive energy is low, then usually offensively we’re going to have gaps. We feel good where we are. We have to come out and make them a little more uncomfortable than they were tonight.”

The Pacers had been invincible at home during the playoffs. Going into last night’s game, the Pacers had been dominant at home, averaging 101.2 per game while giving up 87.3 points en route to a 6-0 record. Until last night, no team had scored 100 points or more on the Pacers at home in the postseason.

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