INDIANAPOLIS — Striking first was vital for the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.
That is why forward Paul George and the Pacers wanted the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference so badly. Memories of a Game 7 loss to the Heat on Miami’s home court in the 2013 conference finals stung badly.
Taking advantage of their home-court advantage in the first game of the conference finals Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, George scored a team-high 24 points and handed out seven assists, leading the Pacers to a 107-96 victory over the Heat.
“This was a game we needed,” George said. “We couldn’t let this one go.”
The Pacers, coming off a six-game win over the Washington Wizards in the conference semifinals and a seven-game win over the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, blasted the Heat from the start. They scored the game’s first seven points and never fell behind at any point.
“It’s a good start to the series, but it’s just a good start,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. “That’s all it is. We’ve got to come back and expect a great fight in Game 2 and try to get Game 2.”
Indiana forward David West and center Roy Hibbert each added 19 points.
All five Indiana starters reached double figures in scoring; only two Miami starters did so.
Miami guard Dwyane Wade scored a game-high 27 points, and forward LeBron James added 25 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Heat center Chris Bosh was held to nine points and two rebounds.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series will be played Tuesday night in Indianapolis, where the Heat have not won this season.
The 107 points were the most scored by the Pacers in the postseason this year and the most given up by the Heat, who swept the Charlotte Bobcats in a first-round series and eliminated the Brooklyn Nets in five games during the second round.
“There is so much more basketball left,” Wade said.
Guard George Hill helped the Pacers strike early. He hit the first shot he took, a 3-pointer in the game’s opening seconds, and two free throws as the Pacers took a 7-0 lead. Hill hit his first three 3-pointers in the first quarter, when the Pacers scored 30 points. The Heat never fully recovered, although they did have an 8-0 run late in the third quarter that created a bit of anxiety for the Pacers fans.
“We just gave them too many points in the first quarter,” James said.
“We let George Hill get into a real good groove to start the game. And from that point on, I mean, they hit 30 on us. We just broke down defensively, had a couple of breakdowns, couple of miscommunication errors … which we will clean up.”
Adding to the Indiana attack was guard Lance Stephenson, who hit six of his first seven shots as the Pacers made 59.5 percent of their shot in the first half and led 55-45 at halftime.
James struggled early for the Heat, missing both 3-pointers he took in the opening quarter and turning the ball over three times. He warmed up to score 13 points by halftime on 6-of-9 shooting, and he also had five rebounds and two steals. He began the second half by fouling George on a 3-point shot. George converted two of the free throws, giving Indiana a 12-point lead.
The Pacers created open shots with pick-and-roll moves, then finished off the Heat with free throws. The Heat outscored the Pacers 54-38 in the paint, but Miami was called for 26 fouls, compared to just 15 for Indiana. Hibbert scored nine of his 19 points on free throws. Indiana almost tripled Miami at the free-throw line, outscoring the Heat, 29-10.
“We never got into a rhythm where we could defend without fouling,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We just need to do it better. It’s as simple as that.”
NOTES: Secretive with his starting lineup until game time, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra chose to start Shane Battier at one of the forward spots. He was considering a move to Udonis Haslem to match up with Indiana F David West. Battier’s start was his sixth of the postseason, and he finished with three points and two rebounds. … Sunday’s game marked the Heat’s first road game to begin a playoff series since the 2012 NBA Finals, when Miami lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the opening game before winning four straight. The Heat had the home-court advantage in their series against the Pacers the last two years. … Miami G Dwyane Wade, who has battled a knee injury, has no medical restrictions for the series, Spoelstra said. Wade averaged 17.9 points per game in the Heat’s first two playoff series. … Indiana F Paul George’s 33 3-pointers in the first two rounds of the playoffs led the NBA. Los Angeles Clippers PG Chris Paul was the only other player with more than 30. George shot 3-for-6 from 3-point range Sunday.
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