INDIANAPOLIS ( exclusive) --  Jermaine O'Neal was a big reason the Miami Heat hadn't won in Indianapolis since 2001.

He's just as a big a reason why that's not true anymore.

O'Neal, who played for the Indiana Pacers from 2000-2008 and who was traded to the Heat from Toronto midway through last season, had his second double-double of the season Friday night in a 96-83 Heat victory in Indiana's 2009-2010 home opener in front of 18,165 at Conseco Fieldhouse.

O'Neal finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds, and played a critical role in an early second-half stretch that helped Miami pull away to its first victory in Indianapolis in eight seasons, a span of 17 games.

"It means a lot," O'Neal said after Miami won despite shooting 43.5 percent from the field and one of seven from 3-point range. "It means a lot to be with this team now and have the type of game that I had to stop the streak. It's a special-special moment, as someone called it. It's special being back in the city and special to be around all the familiar faces.

"It's special to get this win."

O'Neal, a six-time All-Star in eight seasons with the Pacers, continued to impress early in the season. He registered 22 points and 12 rebounds in a season-opening win over the New York Knicks, and his improvement and inside presence is a big reason the Heat are 2-0 this season.

Friday O'Neal scored 10 points during the game's pivotal stretch, which came early in a second half that opened with the Heat leading, 49-47.

With 3:21 remaining in the third quarter, Miami led, 74-57.

After being hampered with knee injuries for the last three seasons, O'Neal said he feels better than he has in several years. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said it has shown in the first two games.

"It was a mature, professional win by the guys," Spoelstra said. "We're all happy for Jermaine to come back here and play healthy and play with energy and play young. He helped us establish that inside-out game and kept them out of the open court.

"He's healthy. It's a big difference. The energy and the liveliness you see in his legs is a residual of the time he put sweating and working in the summer. If he didn't do that, I don't know if he would look as quick as he does now. He's allowing us to establish something."

O'Neal said following the opener he wasn't ready to say he had "arrived" back where he wanted to be, because it was just one game. He wasn't ready to say he was back Friday night, either, but Heat guard Dwyane Wade was.

"He is really showing what the work he put in this summer is coming to," said Wade, who led all scorers with 32 points. "The last three years, he has been hurt. It took away from his game. He really worked hard this summer to give himself the opportunity to have the start he's having."

At times on Friday, the Pacers -- now 0-2 for the first time since 2000-2001 -- seemed to take steps toward improving in an area that Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said before the game is key to not only the season, but the team's long-term development: defense. Asked what was needed to improve a defense that struggled at times last season and against Atlanta in the season opener, O'Brien smiled and said, "It's taken a couple of years."

But O'Brien also noted that there were flashes of potential in the opener, particularly when Earl Watson, Luther Head, Dahntay Jones, Jeff Foster, Solomon Jones were on the floor together. O'Brien said he liked the "defensive disposition" of that group and hoped it would seep into the rest of the team.

Whereas in the opener defense and turnovers hurt Indiana, on Friday it was the offense as the Pacers shot just 36.7 percent from the floor, including just 4 of 23 (17.4 percent) from 3-point range.

"We just played poorly," said Pacers forward Danny Granger, who led Indiana with 22 points. "We didn't shoot the ball well. We're disappointed for ourselves as well as the fans that showed up.

"They deserved better. You don't get behind early to a good team like this and come back to win."