Second half of Game 2 could change outlook of series for Indiana Pacers

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It was another third quarter.

Just one that meant so much more — monumentally more.

The Indiana Pacers, who have built quite a reputation for themselves as a third-quarter team during the 2011-12 season, used another strong effort in that period, and by extension in the second half, to escape AmericanAirlines Arena on Tuesday with a 78-75 win against the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, evening the series at 1-1. The win broke the Heat’s streak of consecutive home playoff wins at 13.

The grit the Pacers displayed in churning out a powerful second half and a win gives them home-court advantage in the series beginning Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

 Though the Pacers’ final field-goal percentage — 37.8 percent — wasn’t stellar, it was largely skewed by a putrid first half from the floor. Indiana went into the locker room having shot 31 percent, and that was after rallying from a deficit as large as nine late in the quarter.

The Pacers charged in the third quarter, going on a 20-4 run that netted them their first double-digit lead of the series. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade carried the Heat with 28 and 24 points, respectively, but, as my brother first brought to attention upon the game’s conclusion, Miami’s next highest scorer had five points.

And you gotta have a superstar to win in the NBA playoffs, eh?

The Pacers didn’t have a single player score in the 20s, but four Pacers tallied double-digit points, and three more guys added at least six. I understand the superstar argument, and yes, you would like to see one (or two) of the Pacers players consistently assert himself in late-game situations, but isn’t this gritty team concept what many people profess to love about certain sports teams?

I know I do. Here are a few other things I loved seeing in the Pacers last night:

  • Rebounding. This is more like the Pacers we have come to expect off the boards — especially when Indiana’s frontcourt doesn’t have to worry about Chris Bosh’s presence. The Pacers grabbed 50 rebounds on the night, 10 more than the Heat. Every Pacers player who saw the floor had at least one rebound. The team’s top post players, Roy Hibbert and David West, had 11 and 10 each, and Paul George pulled down 11 himself. Additionally, despite James’ and Wade’s all-too-occasional abilities to box out several Pacers by themselves late in the game, the Pacers did a much better job off the offensive glass, pulling down 15 rebounds. Definitive of that added effort was a possession near the end of the game in which Hibbert and others went after an offensive rebound again and again, resulting in a volleyball-esque trajectory for the ball, until it was knocked back to the top of the key where George Hill was waiting for it.
  • Leandro Barbosa. The Pacers brought the “Brazilian Blur” in at the trade deadline to provide a consistent scoring option off the bench. Barbosa has met that expectation for the most part, and tonight was perhaps his finest hour as a Pacer. His final numbers — four-of-10 for eight points — might not suggest such a glorious achievement, but Barbosa’s offense provided big sparks in critical situations both in the third and fourth quarters. Miami had few answers for Barbosa’s relentless drives to the basket or for his tear drop-style layups (his lengthy arms make him quite the matchup problem whenever he drives for a bunny). The Pacers will need Barbosa to be that effective all series long, especially given Danny Granger’s struggles to produce much scoring at all.
  • Demeanor. This team isn’t afraid of the Heat. Granger went toe-to-toe with James after a foul (I don’t necessarily like the action Granger took but rather his fearlessness). George showed some killer instinct many Pacers fans feared he had been lacking when he made one of his three steals in the game and took it all the way on a fast break, finishing with a dunk (NOT a layup). Darren Collison shrugged off a hard body check from Wade that ended up being a flagrant foul. I even loved West’s instructing his teammates not to celebrate after the game had been won, explaining in a postgame interview that the Pacers should be focused on winning the whole series, not just one game. One can tell Indiana feels it belongs here, that it deserves to be playing this late in the season. The Pacers believe they can compete with — and beat — the Heat in a playoff series. That’s well more than half the battle.

And hey — these guys now have stolen home-court advantage from everyone’s prohibitive favorite to win the East. Can they take full advantage of it with the next two games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse?

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