INDIANAPOLIS — Bunk.
That's the word Shane Battier used for all the chatter about the troubled Indiana Pacers, about them struggling and splintering, about them presenting no problems for the Miami Heat in this postseason. The veteran forward wasn't alone, either. It seemed that no one on the Heat really bought it, because they know everything changes when the Pacers see red and black, as the Pacers would in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. They know that their presence serves as the ultimate stimulant for the gold-swaggering squad, somehow magically getting the Pacers' minds right and game together.
So while NBA observers were mocking Indiana for its meltdowns during the season's final two months and the postseason's first two rounds, Miami was measured, respectful, wary.
And you thought, in light of that understanding, that the Heat would be ready.
"Every time we've played them, especially in this building, they've moved the ball, they've shot the ball," Battier said. "So we sort of expect that from them. We didn't expect them to throw up 65 points against us. No way. No way."
No, but no one expected the Pacers to post their highest point total in regulation since Feb. 25 against Mike D'Antoni's lenient Los Angeles Lakers. No one expected them to win wire to wire, showing connectivity in the 107-96 victory that had eluded them against the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards. No one expected the Heat's pick-and-roll defense, generally a staple of their success, to be so punchless and pitiful.
When the Pacers had the ball, they appeared on the same page, while the Heat found themselves on different floors of the bookstore.
"Do your job!" Erik Spoelstra screamed during one timeout.
That went for Spoelstra, too, as he surprised media members, if not his players, by staying small to try to dictate the pace-and-space style to Indiana. He went with Battier rather than Udonis Haslem as the fifth starter.
The widespread expectation had been that Haslem would start on Hibbert, Bosh on West and James on George. Instead, Spoelstra went with Battier on Paul George, while LeBron James was largely assigned to David West and Chris Bosh to Roy Hibbert.
The plan went splat.
"Having Battier on me, I think I'm a little quicker," George said. "So it doesn't pose that much of a threat for me."
That wasn't the only issue, though. West kept getting position in the post, even as James tried to front him; the Pacers' burly forward would finish the game 7-of-8 at the rim. And Bosh, who has scuffled against Indiana long enough to deem it a trend, couldn't move Hibbert on defense or make him pay for slow pursuit to the perimeter on the other. In the game's first 73 seconds, he missed two three-pointers from the right corner and threw a pass behind Battier for a backcourt violation.
Suddenly, it was 7-0. Then, after James committed three unforced turnovers in less than three minutes, it was 17-10.
In the process, the Heat disproved a popular theory. Ever hear that you need not watch more than the final few minutes of an NBA game to know what happened? On Sunday, the first few minutes told you everything you needed to know, and how the rest would go.
"Coach really talked about setting the tone early," Pacers guard George Hill said.
"We got off to a good start and set the tone for the rest of the game," West said.
The Pacers got confidence and rhythm, two things that had teetered and wavered throughout the postseason, with all five starters eventually scoring in double digits by the middle of the third quarter.
The Heat just kept getting shredded.
Some of the Pacers' 37 free throws—their most since St. Patrick's Day—were purely a product of Hibbert's height advantage: He had 13 and made nine. But many came after a Pacer broke down the first line of defense, scrambled the rotations, got into a secondary situation on the weak side and drew desperate contact. And when they were in tight spaces, they put on a clinic in interior passing, which isn't typically their forte.
"We're just being aggressive off the bounce, trying to attack, force help, and then share it," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "It's a pretty simple plan. It's not always easiest to execute, but I thought our guys executed pretty well offensively tonight."
And the Heat?
Well, they did the opposite against them.
"Our defense was unacceptable," Bosh said.
"That's probably us at our worst defensively," Spoelstra said.
James took responsibility for some of the breakdowns, as was appropriate, since he was too often out of position.
Battier pointed to collective indecisiveness.
"We were aggressive at the wrong times, and we were passive other times," Battier said. "We were in between mindsets the entire game. And as a result, I thought they really dictated what was going to happen on the pick-and-roll, versus what we do when dictate what teams do against us."
Or, as Ray Allen put it, "We were reactionary to everything. We need to be more proactive."
Which is what you figure they'll be Tuesday. After all, the Heat have lost Game 1 in four different series since James joined them. They've swept the next four in three of those series, and survived the fourth series (the 2013 NBA Finals) in seven games.
"We'll be more mentally prepared for their actions and have a game plan of how we're going to cover their pick-and-rolls," James said.
"We're a team that owns up to the things we need to do better," Wade said. "And I believe the things that we didn't do great today, we'll do better in Game 2."
For their sake, that better not be bunk.
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