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[size=18:6bd6f552f6]Heat can't erase 23-point deficit as Artest leads rested Pacers[/size]
BY ISRAEL GUTIERREZ email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS - The Heat came into its second-round series on a euphoric high, evident from the downright giddiness in the pregame locker room to the quick start to Thursday's game.
The Indiana Pacers, though, have a way of taking the joy out of the playoff experience. They did it to the Boston Celtics when they swept them out of the first round, and they started the Heat off in the same fashion.
Despite the resilient Heat's attempt to stay within shouting distance, the Pacers won 94-81 at Conseco Fieldhouse to take a 1-0 advantage in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference semifinal series. Game 2 is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday.
Ron Artest, who received his Defensive Player of the Year Award from NBA legend Bill Russell before the game, led the Pacers with his offense, scoring 25 points on 7-of-17 shooting, and Jamaal Tinsley contributed 17 points, all but two coming from three-point range.
In typical Indiana fashion, the Pacers perfected the inside-outside halfcourt attack, going inside to Jermaine O'Neal and Artest, then finding open shooters who went 9 of 18 from three-point range.
''They stick with their game plan, they run their sets, and if they don't like the first option they go to the second,'' said Heat reserve point guard Rafer Alston, who had his best game of the postseason with 17 points and four assists. ``If they don't like the second they go right back to the first.''
While it's the vaunted Indiana inside game that got the Pacers this far, O'Neal had just 13 points on 5-of-17 shooting. Tinsley, meanwhile, hit five of his six three-point attempts, three coming during a devastating 26-5 run that gave the Pacers a 60-37 lead with 7:57 left in the third quarter.
The Heat tried to recover, trimming their deficit to eight several times in the fourth quarter, but could not complete the comeback. Dwyane Wade, who finished with 22 points and seven rebounds, led the Heat's comeback attempt with 15 second-half points.
''I just felt that I wasn't taking what the defense was giving me. I was trying to take more,'' Wade said of his first half. ``In the second half I just took what they gave me.''
Regardless of how the Pacers got their 1-0 advantage in the series, it's a comfortable position. The Pacers have never lost a second-round series in five previous trips. And the team is 11-2 in playoff series after winning the first game.
The Heat, on the other hand, is 1-4 when losing the first game of a series, the only win coming after losing Game 1 of the 1997 second-round series against the Knicks. The Heat won that series in seven games.
The start of this series was promising for the Heat, as Wade began the game with a three-point play and Caron Butler followed with a jumper that gave Miami a 5-0 lead 1:35 into the game. Another Butler jumper 20 seconds later gave the Heat a 7-2 lead, and it looked like the momentum from Tuesday's Game 7 traveled with the Heat to Conseco Fieldhouse.
But, these were still the Pacers, which had beaten the Heat in nine previous meetings, so it wouldn't stay that easy for long.
Artest led the Pacers' surge, scoring 15 first-half points and forcing Miami to double-team him in the post. That opened up Tinsley and Reggie Miller on the perimeter.
''It's tough,'' Alston said of Indiana's three-point shooting. ``It stops you from wanting to help.
``But you need to help sometimes, especially when guys get it going. Artest, he got it going tonight.''
The Heat's growing frustration was evident on the bench, too, when one Pacer tried to interfere with a Miami huddle.
Lamar Odom's 0-for-5 start also stalled the Heat's early push, and the team missed 13 straight shots at one point in the first quarter.
Eddie Jones took just three shots and played only 24 minutes due to foul trouble. He finished with four points. That took all the joy out of the once-euphoric Heat, and the Pacers took full advantage.
''Looks can be deceiving,'' said Odom, who finished with 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting. ``We didn't do anything different. It's the same Miami Heat basketball. We just lost.''
INDIANAPOLIS -- There are no moral victories, not this time of year, not when only eight NBA teams are still breathing, but you have to admire the way the fearless Miami Heat keeps coming into these fights face first.
The mighty Indiana Pacers kept throwing the Heat down a flight of stairs Thursday night, telling them to stay down, but Miami is too young and stupid to be afraid. So they kept wobbling back up those stairs, looking for more, Caron Butler and Lamar Odom literally bloodied during the fray but asking through a winded, weary smile, ``Is that all you got?''
Reggie Miller finally finished Miami on this 94-81 night, finished the Heat the way he has been finishing NBA teams since Dwyane Wade was 9 years old, but not before Miami sent a message that was both warning and truth:
We're not going away quietly.
Indiana has its bloody hands full.
One problem: The Heat has played a lot of very good basketball during this season of resurrection, but virtually none of it has been on the road.
This is not a criticism as much as it is a statement of irrefutable and mathematical fact: The Heat is a bad professional basketball team outside of Miami.
Not mediocre. Not decent. Not even almost-kind-of-sort-of OK.
So the Pacers literally bloodied Lamar Odom (three stitches under the chin) and Caron Butler (knee to the face) before figuratively throwing the rest of their teammates in the trunk of the car, too. Miami banged around back there for a while when things got desperate, making a lot of noise when panicked in the fourth quarter, but never found anything that resembled light or escape.
Miami again became roadkill.
A STARTLING STAT
You know how many winning teams Miami has beaten away from home this season?
Think about that for a second.
Miami has played half of its 90 games this wonderful season away from home and has not once managed to luck into or stumble upon a triumph against a team that finished the season with a winning record.
Usually, when you find this kind of stink on the road, it is surrounded by circling buzzards.
It isn't a lack of talent. It isn't a lack of want or will. And it certainly isn't a lack of effort.
It is, however, a lack of confidence.
They don't expect to win on the road because they have nothing in the way of tangible proof that they can.
Confidence is built by stacking successes atop one another, but Miami was 13-28 on the road this season, losing more than twice as often as it won. This is normal for teams this young, the travel wearying the body in a game where fresh legs are pretty important.
''Miami was tired,'' Miller said. ``You could see it. Late in the game, they were dragging.''
Miami was better than teams like New York this season but still managed to lose by 29 to the Knicks on the road.
And now all it must do to advance in these playoffs is win at least once here against the team with the NBA's best record, a team that was 34-7 at home this season.
RESERVED ON ROAD
You never see the fist-pumping, chest-beating Wade on the road. He reserves the histrionics and outward displays of emotion for the home crowd that showers him with love. He'll learn, over the years, to derive a certain joy from the silencing of the rabid strangers on the road, too, but that's something that is going to come with growth.
About the best you can say for the Heat on this night? They didn't quit. They never do. Unfortunately, that's something that only gets said about losing teams.
Doesn't help that Indiana got the star treatment from the referees. Miami has no stars, so they aren't going to get any calls. Refs are human, too. They watch TV commercials. They know that's MVP candidate Jermaine O'Neal out there with the ball. And they get a certain thrill from making the big look-at-me call that makes 20,000 people scream as if they had flipped a noise switch.
Miami might as well have had players in foul trouble before the game even started.
Miami won't win a game in this series if Jamaal Tinsley (6 of 7, 17 points) shoots this way when the Heat is busy double-teaming the real threats, O'Neal and Ron Artest. But there is some solace to be taken from keeping the game close late despite a 32-18 free-throw disadvantage and Tinsley's absurd shooting, especially given the 22-point deficit that inflated when a shaky Miami kept shooting airballs and missing point-blank shots.
You've seen those NBA commercials where various NBA stars pretend to flirt with the golden NBA trophy as if it were a pretty girl?
The Heat can't expect her to just land in its lap.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The general consensus entering this NBA playoff series was that Miami's valiant season had been sentenced to death. There would be no appeal, either. No last-minute stay. So strong was the assignment of doom, you half expected Heat players to walk onto the Conseco Fieldhouse court here Thursday night wearing blindfolds and smoking cigarettes, lined up and helpless but to face their fate.
Indiana's Pacers would be required to show up, sure, technically -- if only for appearances' sake -- but the prohibitive favorites would be gliding on auto pilot. Before long, the Game 1 rout on, you imagined Pacers players huddled beside their bench around a small TV, dabbing tears while watching the final episode of Friends.
The idea that this series' conclusion was foregone -- over before it began -- seemed like a fairly grievous disregard and disrespecting of the Heat.
It also seemed a rather unearned pedestal for the Pacers, who, despite the league's best regular-season record, brought no championship pedigree into this postseason.
Game 1 drew the teams a little closer, is what it did. In perception, at the very least. Game 1 should siphon a little of whatever overconfidence may have existed among the Pacers, and should give a little bit of hope (a little) to the Heat.
The Pacers won 94-81, yes, but the Heat won a measure of respect.
Indiana should win this series. Should. But it might not be in four or five games. And it will not be without a fight. That's what Thursday showed.
It was more than not quitting, even as the Indiana lead ballooned past 20 in the second half. It was the idea the young Heat was not intimidated -- despite its awful road record, despite the Pacers' great success at home.
It was the idea the Heat still believes, even if nobody else outside of its hard-core fandom does.
Miami got a struggling night from Lamar Odom, next to no offense from Brian Grant, and hardly anything at all of Eddie Jones.
And yet the Heat gave itself a modest chance, cutting the lead to eight with time to play.
Of course, the fact we are praising the Heat effort after a 13-point defeat tells you how much work Miami has to do.
The disparity between the teams seemed accurate in spurts and batches Thursday night, and it remains an onus on the Heat to prove it's not.
If Thursday was a small moral victory, those are consolations that won't cut it for Miami anymore. Not now.
It's going to take a Heat win on the road, right here, somehow, for the underdogs to have any chance in this series.
And a Heat team with a 13-32 road record, against a Pacers team 37-7 at home, looks to be as close to an impossible task as you'll find anywhere in these playoffs.
Again: Can the Heat prove it's not?
The Pacers have been saying all the right things to publicly respect the Heat, even as Indiana entered this series as confident as it was rested.
Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal complimented Miami's spunk, saying, ``Heart can be tougher to play against than talent.''
THE RIGHT WORDS
It's a nice bon mot. Ready made for a fortune cookie, or maybe a Hallmark verse. But it's pretty much a lie, too.
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle? He likened Dwyane Wade's game to no less than that of LeBron James.
For all the Pacers' praise, Miami in this series faces Jermaine O'Neal, a true star, not the sort-of one New Orleans' Jamaal Magloire supposedly was. It faces Reggie Miller, thespian, dive artist, one of great clutch performers in NBA history. And it faces Defensive Player of the Year Ron Artest, whose hobby is collecting technicals.
Earning a measure of national respect will be easy for this Heat team if it works throughout this series as hard as it did Thursday night.
But earning more than that -- earning an elusive, essential road victory to have any chance at all in this series -- will be immeasurably tougher.
The Heat can show all the heart it has and all of the fight it can muster in this series, and it still might not be enough.
INDIANAPOLIS - This postseason has been Lamar Odom's personal coming-out party, his opportunity to show the world what he was so thoroughly convinced of long ago. It was his chance to prove he belongs here -- in the playoffs, in big games, among the best.
And then Thursday arrived.
The Pacers crashed Odom's party with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, frustrating the Heat's go-to man, forcing him into a poor shooting display. He missed eight of his first 10 shot attempts in this 94-81 loss to kick off the second round.
Odom tried to rally his team in the fourth quarter, long after the Heat had fallen behind by as many as 23. Odom added three big baskets in the fourth quarter and finished with 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting, but six points through three quarters was far from enough.
Odom's fourth-quarter contributions were too little and too late for the Heat's primary offensive option. His team needed him to get things going three quarters before, back when the Pacers were playing as if they didn't want this crucial game, back when the Heat was screaming for an individual to take a stand.
Instead, that's when Indiana sent Odom to the locker room, where he was treated for a cut to his chin that required several stitches, his second such injury during the playoffs.
''That's one thing I didn't need when I started off cold, to come in here and get stitches,'' Odom said. ``It's not an excuse. I didn't play well offensively. I came up a little short.''
In Game 3 at New Orleans, Odom needed stitches on his eyelid just as he was beginning to heat up after a long afternoon. It's the third time this season Odom has required stitches during a game, but, like a boxer, he keeps getting up off the mat.
''It's like a fighter who keeps getting cut in the same area,'' Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said.
But after leaving late in the first quarter and returning early in the second, Odom couldn't connect. He missed from the perimeter, missed in the paint, missed from pretty much everywhere.
By halftime, when the Heat trailed by 10, Odom had had a minimal impact on the game, his 1-for-7 accuracy and three points registering barely a blip on Miami's radar.
Had this been almost any other Heat player, maybe Miami could withstand it. But this was Odom, the most consistent player the Heat has in these playoffs, and in this eighth postseason game, the Heat had long become accustomed to getting big efforts from its biggest star.
Odom had led the Heat in scoring through the postseason, averaging 16.3 points per game against the New Orleans Hornets. He also shot 43.8 percent despite being guarded by P.J. Brown, a very capable and experienced defender.
Odom had dropped 25 points on the Hornets in Game 4, 18 points in Game 3 and 17 in Game 1. But, suddenly, Al Harrington and Jeff Foster of the Pacers had found a way to disrupt Odom's rhythm -- or, more accurately, found a way to prevent Odom from finding that rhythm in the first place.
''It's going to be like that sometimes,'' Odom said. ``I just have to keep plugging, keep going. Nothing changes from my part.''
[size=18:6bd6f552f6]Pacers take control with halfcourt game[/size]
By MICHAEL POINTER
Special to the Herald
INDIANAPOLIS - Perhaps the last thing Indiana coach Rick Carlisle wanted to see was a game played at breakneck speed Thursday night.
''They play with an angular, hard-driving kind of force,'' Carlisle said before Indiana's opening game against the Heat. ``We've got to make sure we don't turn this into a track meet. If we turn this into a 100-yard dash, we're going to get beat.''
Mission accomplished. The veteran, deep Pacers got the Heat into a halfcourt game early and withstood a mild rally en route to victory.
''We've got to play at our tempo, which is an opportunistic transition tempo, and we've got to play inside-out as often as we can,'' Carlisle said. ``It's tough because Miami makes it tough to get the ball into the post.''
Still, there isn't much to complain about in Indianapolis. Average winning margin through five playoff games is 16 points. The 11-day layoff since the Pacers swept Boston in an opening-round series hardly seemed to bother them.
If anything, it may have made them fresher -- especially against the Heat, which had just one day to get ready for the Pacers after a Game 7 victory over New Orleans.
''Miami was tired,'' Indiana's Reggie Miller said. ``You could see it at the beginning of the game. They were really dragging. They really didn't have time to prepare for us.''
Added Carlisle: ``It really felt good to go out and play the game. The effort was there. I thought we were a little overanxious at times. But I thought we played pretty well.''
Ron Artest, who missed the Pacers' morning shootaround because of a headache, scored 25 points and added six rebounds. Indiana's Jamaal Tinsley had a career playoff high of 17 points. He was 5 for 6 from three-point range.
''He made some mistakes along the way, but he did a great job of making shots,'' Carlisle said. ``He made some three-pointers when we kicked it out from a double-team in the paint that came at really key times.''
The Pacers took the lead for good when Artest's two field goals made the score 11-10 with 5:51 left in the first half.
They stretched their first-half lead to 10 points three times, the final coming when Jonathan Bender's basket with 3.9 seconds left made the score 46-36 at the break.
Indiana then opened the second half with a 14-1 run. Miami did not get its first basket of the second half until Rafer Alston hit a free throw with 7:43 remaining. The Heat played better after that, but the game was out of reach. They cut the deficit to 84-76 on Caron Butler's basket with 3:26 left.
But Miller answered with a three-pointer 15 seconds later, and the Pacers coasted home.
''Miami is going to keep coming at you,'' Carlisle said. ``They've got a strong will. I'm afraid when we go and look at the tape, we're going to see they outworked us at times.