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Pacers Aren't Celebrating After Game 2 Victory

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

May 25, 2013, 3:25 AM

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MIAMI – This time, David West didn't have to break up an on-court celebration and wave his teammates into the locker room. This time, the Pacers took their good and hard-earned fortune in stride, as if they had been there before.

Because they have. Their 97-93 victory over Miami at American Airlines Arena Friday evened the Eastern Conference final series at 1-1, sent a message to a nation of doubters, and allowed them to pack homecourt advantage for the trip home. They did the same thing last year, of course, winning Game 2 on the Heat's home court, and won Game 3 back home as well before collapsing under the weight of mounting expectations and their stubborn inexperience.

This Game 2 win, however, felt different to them. This Game 2 win inspired no predictions or promises, only a lot of recitations of the most exhausted cliché in sports: we can't-get-too-high-or-too-low over this one.

“We've been through this before as a group,” said David West, whose steal and deflection on Miami's final two possessions were merely two of many widespread contributions. “There's just no need to celebrate. We won a game that we prepared for, we played hard and competed. We felt like we put in enough work to win. And we did.”

This victory was a whoa-now moment for viewers across the country, particularly back home in Indiana. The Pacers had blown an opportunity to win Game 1, which ended with a controversial decision by coach Frank Vogel that appeared to backfire. But that loss merely allowed them to display the maturity with which they had dealt with adversity all season. To be around them on Thursday and Friday morning was to believe they were no worse for wear emotionally, and in fact had drawn confidence from their opening defeat. That's been their season-long mantra, in fact. Negatives are interpreted as positives by the force of Vogel's sunny willpower.

That outlook showed from the start, when four players each scored two points to compile an 8-4 lead. They gave back part of their leads at the end of the first and second quarters with unforced turnovers and defensive lapses, but still led at the end of every period. There were individual highlights and plenty of self-destructive moments, but mostly they plodded through with the same dirty-work fundamentals that have worked for them all season.

True to their recent theme of Kumbaya basketball, all five starters scored in double figures and made desperately needed contributions. West had those deflections, along with a field goal at 1:59 that provided a two-point lead. Roy Hibbert scored 29 points on 10-of-15 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds and, yes, this time was in the game on Miami's final possessions. Paul George scored 22, threw down a dunk for the ages, added six assists, and at least made LeBron James work for his 36. George Hill, ineffective in Game 1, scored 18 and hit four foul shots in the final 48.9 seconds. Lance Stephenson went haywire at times while forcing the action, but came up with 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists. He hit one of the game's biggest field goals, a three-pointer with 5:25 remaining that sliced Miami's lead to one.

It was a different approach than that taken by Miami, which was reminded of a fundamental math lesson: five is greater than three.

James nearly won the game by himself, but committed passing errors on Miami's final possessions because Indiana's defense left him no scoring opportunities. Chris Bosh scored 17 and Dwyane Wade 14. Nobody else, however, scored more than seven points for the Heat.

“Take nothing away from their Big Three, but we'll take a Big Five any day,” George said. “That's what we have. We have a Big Five. We don't lean on one guy, it's a team contribution. That's how we play the game.”

George, however, did offer up a standout individual highlight amid all the teamwork. Late in the third period, with the clock winding down, he beat James off the dribble, got to the basket, threw down a monstrous right-handed jam over Chris “Bird Man” Andersen and drew a foul. He completed the three-point play to give the Pacers a five-point lead, seemingly giving momentum into the final period.

Only one problem. James. He dribbled upcourt and hit a 29-foot three-pointer over George at the buzzer, negating George's three-point play. But then, with the players heading to their respective benches, James approached George, extended a hand for George to slap, and said, “I got you back, young fella.”

Consider it a welcome-to-the-club moment, the NBA's best player acknowledging an emerging superstar. It meant something to the 23-year-old kid, who relished the time he spent around James last summer, when James was a member of the U.S. Olympic team and George was part of a junior select team that provided practice bodies for the Olympians.

“I've got the most respect for LeBron; I look up to LeBron,” George said. “He's a phenomenal player. That was a moment for me that I'll always remember.”

Said James: “He's going to be a great one. His maturity and his game have definitely risen in just one year because of the opportunity Frank Vogel has given him. His teammates have a lot of confidence in him and he has confidence in himself.”

The Pacers are indeed confident heading home, but no more so than after the Game 1 loss. They are flying home on Saturday, staying over in Miami after the game to avoid disrupting their sleep patterns, but they could just as easily sail home on an even keel.

The challenge now is to avoid taking anything for granted, and to continue their on-the-fly growth spurt. The memory of the loss of the 2-1 lead over the Heat last season should help, but the challenge remains massive. They must beat the Heat four times within a week-and-a-half to win the series, and while the Heat look vulnerable, it's worth reminding that they had won 46 of their previous 49 games before Friday.

The Pacers aren't among those needing a memo.

“We're a totally different ballclub (than last year),” West said. “We know we haven't accomplished anything. We have to protect our home court. We're just looking to be ourselves.”

Which suddenly seems enough.