INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Pacers waited all season for the playoff rematch with Miami.
In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, they made the wait worthwhile.
Paul George and David West helped Indiana stagger the two-time defending NBA champs early, knock them out late and take the opener in the best-of-seven series 107-96 on Sunday.
“All season, we’ve been waiting for the opportunity to be where we’re at right now. They’re the champs and we just have to bring it to them,” Lance Stephenson said. “We have to think Pacers basketball and be the first on the floor.”
These teams certainly are well acquainted.
The home team won each of the four previous meetings this season — by six points, three points and one point before Miami’s 98-86 “blowout” last month. Last season, Indiana won two of the three regular-season contests — both at home — before succumbing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals at Miami. In 2011-12, the Pacers went 1-3 against Miami in the regular season but had the eventual world champs on the ropes after taking a 2-1 lead in the conference semifinals. The Heat rallied to win the final three.
On Sunday, the Pacers ignored history and played their most complete game in months.
Indiana was so dominant that it finished with its highest point total this postseason, never let Miami take the lead and never even allowed the Heat to get within one possession after George Hill scored the first five points in the game’s first 40 seconds.
At times, the Heat looked befuddled and frustrated — just like the Pacers planned.
“We know these guys and we’re pretty familiar with them,” West said after finishing with 19 points and seven rebounds. “I thought our resolve and playoff-style of ball was where it needed to be.”
Now Indiana has a chance to do something it couldn’t in either of their last two playoff series against the Heat — taking a 2-0 lead. Game 2 is Tuesday in Indy.
And Miami has plenty of work to do before then.
While LeBron James finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and Dwyane Wade had 27 points and five assists, the rest of the Heat starters combined for 18 points, six rebounds and nine assists.
The Pacers, meanwhile, had six players in double figures including Paul George, who had 24 points and seven assists, West with 19 points and seven rebounds, Roy Hibbert with 19 points and nine rebounds, and Stephenson with 17 points and eight assists.
Miami also was a dismal 6 of 23 on 3-pointers, had just four offensive rebounds, allowed the Pacers to shoot 51.5 percent from the field and make six of their first seven 3s and sent them to the free-throw line 37 times. And James made his only two free throws of the game.
“It’s a matchup collectively that we have to figure out,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said.
The challengers in this matchup insist they know it’s only a start.
“There’s nothing to celebrate. It’s not like we won a championship. It’s one game,” Hill said. “Yes, it was good, but if we come out and lay an egg on Tuesday, this game doesn’t mean anything.”
Indiana swarmed the glass, exploited its size advantage, knocked down six of its first seven 3-pointers and never allowed the Heat to catch up.
When the Heat cut a 10-point, first-quarter deficit to 41-37 midway through the second quarter, Stephenson scored four points in a 5-0 run to make it 46-37. When James trimmed it to 50-45 with back-to-back baskets late in the quarter, the Pacers ended the half with five straight points to make it 55-45.
Hibbert and West then combined to score eight of Indiana’s first 14 points to open the second half, pushing the lead to 69-52.
James and Wade rallied the Heat within 83-74 early in the fourth, but the Pacers opened it up again to lead 102-84 with 4:11 to go.
“Our pick-and-roll coverage had a lot of breakdowns, including myself,” James said. “I broke down a few times defensively and we allowed them to get into the paint. We had some breakdowns throughout the game and that’s what resulted in us losing this game.”
Now comes the hard part for Indiana — duplicating this effort in Round 2.
“We’ve been complacent many times. We just can’t get complacent,” George said. “We’ve got to stay humbled off this win and come in with the same mind-set that we have to get another one.”
NOTES: Miami has lost six straight series openers on the road. … The last two games these teams have played were both decided by double digits. … Former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine opened the series by playing the national anthem on his harmonica.
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