NDIANAPOLIS – Paul George got knocked to the floor and three, count ‘em, three Miami Heat players didn’t much like the foul call. Udonis Haslem looked exasperated at the whistle, LeBron James had a sour look on his face and, as James glanced at Dwyane Wade, he then joined in with his own half-skeptical, half-disgusted expression. Haslem went too far and got a technical for his trouble while George, well, he got a little satisfaction.
“I was joking out there with those guys, LeBron and Dwayne Wade,” George said after Indiana’s 102-89 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “I asked ‘em, ‘When is it my time to get some of these calls?’ They joked back and said, ‘We don’t get those.’ I told Wade, ‘the whole first half was for you.’ “
By halftime, George already was lugging three personal fouls. James and Wade had played no-touch defense, nary a foul between them.
“If it happens, it happens,” George, a newly minted 2013 All-Star, said of the league’s alleged superstar treatment. “But I don’t look to get any calls.”
George is looking beyond a few whistles, beyond even the two double-digit victories the Pacers have hung on Miami in the regular season. He and his teammates brought a little extra to Friday’s game because of what it means to them – their strategy, their confidence – over the long haul against the Heat. Which, naturally, means the playoffs, in what could be a chance to avenge their loss last May in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Miami, as defending champions, could shrug off what happened Friday as just one of 82, packing no meaning beyond an off-night against Portland or Milwaukee. That’s the privilege of the rings: freedom from fretting until the best-of-seven stuff starts.
“We move on to the next one,” James said. “We don’t put too much into winning or losing these games. I’m not worried. We’re not worried.”
Mostly, Miami looked peeved, a bit dyspeptic in slipping to 11-11 on the road. Indiana shot 55.7 percent, outrebounded the Heat (doesn’t everyone?) and held them to their lowest scoring output since James, Wade and Chris Bosh combined for 66 on Jan. 8 – and the other Miami players totaled just 11.
Clearly, though, this wasn’t just another game to Indiana.
“We know when we’re playing this team,” said power forward David West, who was a beast with 30 points on 12-for-15 shooting, with seven rebounds and five assists. West had an old-school big man’s night and should have cashed half of Roy Hibbert‘s paycheck, he carried the Indiana center so in the paint.
“We obviously have some confidence from matching up with them in the playoffs last year,” West said. “Mix that with playing well at home [the Pacers have won 13 straight at the Fieldhouse]. But we can’t overreact to it. I mean, it’s a good win against a good team, we did some good things. But we just can’t overreact to it.”
James, after all, had his way most of the night (28 points, six rebounds, 9-for-11 from the line). Miami turned up its defense (a little late, as it turned out) and stymied Indiana’s attack into 17 turnovers. Bosh got in early foul trouble and had just 13 points and two rebounds, but Wade stayed active for 17 points.
“The Heat have two of the best players in the world,” West said, “So, any time they show up, they’re going to bring some extra folks in the building and the energy is going to be different. There were games last year where, in our growth, we didn’t meet that challenge.
“Our team has grown in terms of going out and being able to execute what we’re trying to do. Not getting caught up in the atmosphere and environment, and being able to play some solid basketball.”
Indiana got the better of Miami in the clash of team strengths – its league-best defensive field-goal percentage (.419) vs. the Heat’s league-best offensive percentage (.489). The Pacers fended off a push late in the third quarter. And James and Wade were whistled for six fouls in the second half to just one for their All-Star Pacers buddy.
Well, buddy for a day when George teams up with all those Heat types in Houston.
“I guess it’s what All-Star is about,” George said. “It’s really just a weekend to have some fun with it and enjoy the time. From being real competitive, that’s the only way I’m looking at it, it’s just a break. But when it’s opening back up for the season, it’ll be easy to change the mindset to being competitive against those guys.”
He already is. The Pacers already are.