My hands are still shaking. The Pacers just escaped with their biggest win of their season in Indiana by edging the Heat 84-83 as Chris Bosh missed a 22-foot jumper at the buzzer.
It was playoff intensity all night, marked by a couple of near flagrants against the Pacers and a flagrant against Lebron for nearing taking Roy Hibbert's head off with a flying offensive elbow.
Lance Stephenson was ejected in the fourth quarter after picking up his second technical and Dwyane Wade tweaked his hamstring before sitting out the final couple of minutes.
Lebron was damn near unstoppable with 38 points, aided plenty by the refs who also made him untouchable by giving him 15 attempts at the line, 10 in the first half. Paul George had 23 and a couple of rim-rockers to keep the Pacers hyped and in the game.
David West hit the biggest shot, a three-pointer that gave the Pacers a 4-point lead with 50 seconds to go, and George Hill was nearly the scapegoat after missing two freebies at the line that could have iced the game with 2 seconds left on the clock.
It was that kind of a night.
Neither team played beautiful basketball, but I think it has jolted both of them into reality, and hopefully they (well, at least the Pacers) will start playing with the intensity that has been lacking over the past month and finish the season the way they started it.
Right now the most important thing is that the Pacers are 52-20 and own a 3-game lead over the Heat in the race for the East's top seed, including a crucial 2-game edge in the loss column. The two teams will play again on April 11, but the Pacers can't lose the head-to-head tiebreaker having taken a 2-1 lead in the season series.
You'll find plenty of analysis elsewhere, so I'm just going to throw in my 2 cents and be done with it.
- If only Hibbert could play against every team like he does against Miami. Tonight he looked alive for the first time in forever and finished with 21 points but just 4 rebounds. But big kudos for staying in the game after getting hit in the chin with an elbow like that and cutting his tongue. Hopefully this will wake him up and get him ready for the stretch run.
- Can everyone now please STFU about the Danny Granger for Evan Turner trade? Turner had 8 points but made arguably the two biggest plays of the game outside of the David West three. He filled in admirably after Lance's ejection, scoring on consecutive baskets to turn a 3-point deficit into a 1-point advantage with a 1:30 left in the game. One was a steal off a Lebron pass where he went coast to coast, patiently faked out the defender under the basket and finished with a bank shot. The second was a pretty spin move in the lane against Mario Chalmers which he finished with a nifty layup. Granger, as much as I love him, can't do either of those things right now.
- PG held his own against Lebron tonight, but when the King has his jumper going like he did in this game, there's not much anyone can do. I think the Pacers did a better job of holding back the whining today. They were frustrated by a lot of the calls that went Miami's way, especially in the first half, but they responded with their play instead of with their mouths.
- Lance Stephenson proved again that he is a double-edged sword for the Pacers. He had 15 points but his two technicals were insanely stupid — the first was a double tech with Wade, and the second was for taunting after making a huge basket to put the Pacers up by 4 with five minutes to go. The Pacers had all the momentum but after his ejection Miami went on a 7-1 run, and to be honest I didn't think they could come back from it. It's a big lesson for him and he must be relieved the team pulled out the win, and I'm just glad it happened now and not in the playoffs.
- Greg Oden started and played just 6 minutes as Roy feasted on him in the first quarter. Sadly, Roy had a much tougher time with the shorter Udonis Haslem, but I think it's a good thing that they play Oden less due to his rim protection and rebounding.
- The bench still needs to do better. Scola was brought in for these types of games but he had zero points on five shots. Turner played big and Ian Mahinmi was serviceable as usual but the Pacers still need Scola. Getting CJ Watson back from that hamsting injury should help. If Andrew Bynum can get his knees in shape for a couple of playoff games, especially in MIami, that could make all the difference.
- Only 10 turnovers tonight, but also only 2 fast break points (Miami had 18 and 12, respectively). Easy transition baskets are going to be crucial in the playoffs so they'll need to keep taking care of the ball but run when opportunities present themselves.
- For all their struggles, the Pacers are still a league-leading 33-4 at home, which proves how important home court advantage will be for them come playoff time.