Posted May 14 2012 6:51AM
MIAMI -- Chris Bosh was lost by halftime, done for the night, but the Miami Heat didn't miss him at all. Danny Granger was around from start to finish, yet was missing all night for the Indiana Pacers.
The result -- Miami's 95-86 victory in Game 1 of the teams' Eastern Conference semifinal series Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena -- was an opportunity squandered and an outcome the Pacers could live to regret if they go directly from this playoff round to the fishing hole.
Seemingly, Indiana had LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest right where they wanted them. The Pacers' lead halfway through was six. They were plugging along just fine, thanks, not shrinking on the biggest NBA stage any of these players had known.
They were getting nothing offensively out of Granger and Paul George, their starting small forward and shooting guard, respectively, but it didn't really matter. Didn't matter that their Miami counterparts, James and Wade, had outscored them 19-0. Indiana had other ways to get things done, a trait the Heat, for all their star power, often could not.
Especially not with Bosh exiting Game 1 with 1:06 left in the second quarter, landing badly after the Pacers' Roy Hibbert fouled him on a dunk. Hibbert already was considered a matchup migraine for Miami. Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony and any other Heat big man likely would come up short, and not just literally, against the 7-foot-2 All-Star center.
Hibbert (10 points, seven rebounds in the first half) and power forward David West (12, five) already were having their way. Indiana had the edge in rebounds and in scoring in the lane.
So what happened? Without Bosh, Miami grabbed more rebounds (24-16), scored more inside (26-12) and held Hibbert and West to a total of 12 more points. Ronny Turiaf and Anthony split starter's minutes and combined for nine points and seven rebounds, about what Bosh might have done on a good night. The Heat clamped down defensively, denied Hibbert the ball and ran off so much shot clock on possession after possession that the Pacers were more like Pacemakers, hearts a-pounding just to get the ball up to the rim.
At the other end, James and Wade were sharing hero chores, taking 30 of Miami's 40 shots in the half and, by themselves, outscoring Indiana 42-38. The Pacers' starters accounted for seven field goals and 13 fouls over the last two quarters -- and needed 32 minutes of bench help, thanks to the broken rhythm and funky rotations stemming from their foul trouble.
One concern was whether Hibbert could be pushy enough to assert his size and talent inside. He actually stayed pretty active -- except for when the defense sagged down on him and when the referees' whistles put him back on his heels or on the bench. The Pacers center picked up his fifth personal with 7:52 left, flirting with disqualification thereafter.
"They like to front the post and make things difficult," Hibbert said. "But it's nothing we haven't seen before. They're very quick -- they're probably the quickest team jumping to the ball that we've seen in a while -- so we have our hands full. ... To tell you the truth, I didn't expect Bosh to guard me. I expected Anthony and Haslem to guard me. They threw some bodies at me, but like I said, it's nothing I haven't seen."
A teammate, asked why Hibbert's edge didn't turn dominant, said simply: "Five fouls."
Indiana coach Frank Vogel had waded into the postseason hobgoblin of officiating a couple days early and paid for it -- a $15,000 fine from league headquarters for talking about what he felt was a Heat propensity for flopping. So he waded right back away from the topic Sunday evening.
"Our guys are fouling too much," Vogel said. "We are trying to be aggressive but you can be aggressive and foul unnecessarily. It hurts your rotation some."
Seven of the first eight fouls whistled were against them. At one point, they were saddled with 22 personals to Miami's 11. The whammy from that typically is triple: Key players get yanked to the bench. Subs have to play longer and in unfamiliar combinations. And when the foul-laden return, they're cautious, even timid.
To varying degrees, though, the Pacers players clung to their wallets after what happened to their coach.
"We have been playing at our aggressive level all year," West said. "I think there were too many times where we didn't move our feet."
Granger talked around it, leaving it to his audience to fill in the blanks, after Miami shot 38 free throws to his team's 28, after James and Wade played a combined 83:37 while committing only two fouls and after the Heat outscored them from the line by nine in a game decided by nine.
"You saw the stat sheet, you saw the numbers," Granger said. "We just have to be aware of that and ... do something less or do something more. I don't know what to say, to tell you the truth."
Guard George Hill, who picked up his fifth foul while trying to call a timeout with 8:26 to go in the third quarter, knew what not to say: "Y'all know. He know. Everybody knows. The world knows. But sometimes it's better left unsaid."
Look, this was what the Pacers were thinking (the way most Miami opponents think at some point), even as they shrugged and vowed to play their same aggressive style in Game 2. Maybe it would have helped if Granger, first among equals in their ensemble squad, had earned some star treatment by playing like one. But he was stymied by James' sticky defense -- "He wouldn't leave me," the Pacers forward said -- and neither he nor Vogel came up with anything to make the NBA's newly minted MVP work as hard as James made Granger work.
"So many pick-and-rolls -- I've got bruises everywhere," Granger said.
Bosh got banged up, had to leave and never was missed. Granger stayed involved but mostly looked lost. Lost like the opportunity he and his teammates had.
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