MIAMI – Losing a game at the final buzzer, no less than a playoff game on the road against the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat, would seem to have potential to demoralize the Pacers.
“Our belief,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Thursday, “has strengthened.”
Barely 12 hours after LeBron James scored on a drive as time expired in overtime to give the Heat a win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Pacers were more steeled than shaken when they arrived for practice at the arena where it all went awry in the series opener. The second-guessing of Vogel’s decision to keep Roy Hibbert on the bench for the final play was still going strong, but the Pacers insisted that they’re mentally fine.
A short memory would likely help Indiana now, especially with Game 2 of the series back in Miami tonight.
“Very encouraged,” Vogel said. “Our belief in our ability to beat this team has strengthened after Game 1. Our familiarity in the playoffs, in the playoff series, grows with each day, grows with each game, and there’s a lot of things we can definitely do better.”
And on that point, the Pacers and Heat are in total agreement. For as intense and down-to-the-wire as Game 1 was, with 35 ties or lead changes over 53 scintillating minutes where neither team ever held more than a seven-point lead, both the Pacers and Heat are expecting to simply be better.
Matching the level of drama may be difficult, but the actual level of play, they think, will improve.
It’s easy to see how that could be the case, after a series opener where both teams were turnover-happy – 20 for Indiana, 21 for Miami, hardly the norm for either side – and play was at times choppy, thanks in part to 58 personal fouls being called.
“We’re going to play a lot better,” Heat center Chris Bosh said after film and on-court work Thursday.
For all the sensational statistical story lines that were born from Game 1 – James’ 30-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist effort, Chris Andersen making all seven of his shots, David West and Hibbert combining for 20 field goals – the boxscore alone points to plenty of areas where things could get better for both sides tonight.
“We can get better,” James said. “I think both teams didn’t play to the level that they’re capable of playing at in Game 1. But both teams had a chance to win.”
Another lineup – not another level – might have done wonders for the Pacers at the end of Game 1.
Vogel’s decision to not have a 7-foot-2 shot-blocking machine like Hibbert in the game for the final play was still creating plenty of buzz Thursday, though the second-guessing seemed to not be raining on Indiana’s collective mood.
With Miami down by one, James took an inbounds pass from Shane Battier with 2.2 seconds left, drove past an overcommitted George and easily dropped a left-handed layup home as time expired.
If Hibbert was in the game, odds are he would have been able to at least contest James at the rim. Without Hibbert, no one so much as seemed to even jump toward the final shot.
“I may have been able to get a hand on it,” Hibbert said. “I may not have. He may have done something differently. Can’t really think about that. You just have to move on.”