In a move to get the hometown crowd excited about the Indiana Pacers in their first home game against the Miami Heat in round two, the Pacers followed the motto of most playoff teams these days and draped every chair at Bankers Life Fieldhouse with a free shirt in attempt to drown out the various Heat fans that would show up to game three.
The effect of 18,165 tees that expressed the motto "Gold Swagger" had a staggering effect on the fans, which surprisingly had very little black, red, or white shirts come tip-off, and the players in the game.
"All the gold, I was almost blind," said Pacers small forward Danny Granger.
"I hadn't seen it like this since I've been here, fans going crazy. Just thankful so many fans came out to support us. The energy early was so off the charts I lost my breath at about 2 minutes. I don't think I've ever been that tired, so much adrenaline was running through us."
The raucous crowd, which Indiana point guard George Hill referenced it being a crowd "from the old says", helped lift the Indiana Pacers to another level Thursday night in a 94-75 victory over the Miami Heat.
The fans also helped Indiana's All-Star in center Roy Hibbert play like a man on a mission.
"The game was won once again with defense and rebounding," said Pacers Head Coach Frank Vogel. "That's what this team's identity is about, led by Roy Hibbert who anchored our team with five blocked shots, 19 points, and 18 boards. It's of the best games I've ever seen him play."
Hibbert's play being the best the team had seen him play was the overall consensus from the Pacers locker room after Indiana took the 2-1 series lead as the big man took advantage of a smaller Miami Heat line-up. With Eastern Conference All-Star Chris Bosh out indefinitely in the series after spraining his abdomen in game one, Miami Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra went with Dexter Pittman at the center position (0 points in 3:29 minutes played) and Shane Battier at the power forward position (0 for 7 shooting). Hibbert made the Heat pay from the get go, scoring eight points alone in the first quarter as Roy crashed the boards for second-chance opportunities, had his baby jump-hook fall from all over the floor, and dominated on the defensive side of the ball.
"My primary focus, coach told me going into this series and the last series, was defense," said HIbbert. I've embraced that role. I let the offense come to me and try to bean anchor of the paint and make things difficult for the other team."
The stat-sheet looked very familiar to one of Hibbert's role models, one that also won a playoff game Thursday night with 18 points and 5 rebounds," in San Antonio Spurs power forward and NBA living legend Tim Duncan. The four-time champion has taken Hibbert under his wing as of late, and Hibbert has been responding with an intense attitude towards the game, a long with improved results on the court.
"I had a roller coaster first three years in terms of my career," said the first time All-Star Hibbert.
"I worked out with Tim Duncan on more than just basketball stuff We sat down and talked to see how he goes about his business. His kind of demeanor is he doesn't get too high or too low. I model my game after him. He texts me after every game, and I'm very appreciative."
Hibbert would go on to talk about how great the fans were on Thursday night, saying the atmosphere was "the best he had seen" as a Pacer and that he hopes "every night can be like that from now on".
The fans also hope Hibbert can play like the dominant center he can be every night like he did in game three as well.
Wade's historically bad night
Game three's main story from Thursday night was how effective Indiana's defense was at stopping Miami shooting guard Dwyane Wade from ever getting into an offensive rhythm. Wade finished with five total points on the game, the lowest of his career in 95 playoff games, as the superstar finished 2-13 from the field.
Wade's lack of scoring and frustration led to a confrontation with Miami Head Head Coach Erik Spoelstra in the third quarter, but much of his anger can be attributed to the spectacular job that Paul George did to contain Wade all game long.
"Paul George is one of the top five most versatile defenders in the NBA," gushed Pacers Head Coach Frank Vogle.
"He's doing a great job on Wade. Wade had an off night. When he did get free, he didn't kock down shots. We can't give Paul all the credit. He's (Wade) too good of a player to have shooting nights like he had tonight. But Paul is just competing and growing by the day. We're just happy as what his future looks like."
Like an assist to his teammates, George passed off any attributions to his defense on Wade.
"We just play that aggressive no matter who the opponent is," said George. "We just wanted to make them change their game up or come at us. But tonight it seemed like us coming out aggressive caused a little problem for them."
Wade tried to make sense of his off-shooting night after the game, but couldn't quite explain what had happened.
"I guess I made history tonight, it was a bad night," said Wade.
"There were a lot of reasons for it. I just need to go back and look at film and see what I can correct. I knew that I didn't have it going tonight so I was trying to pass to my teammates a little bit more. Mario Chalmers (25 points) was open quite a bit. He did a good job. I jsut didn't have it going. I was not trying to force it out there. It hoguht we played well defensively for alittle more than half the game. We want to play a lot better. Give the Pacers credit."
Hill's run in second, fourth quarter charges the Pacers
Much will be written about the Indiana Pacers 26-12 third quarter against the Miami Heat, and rightfully so. The Pacers have proven once again that their elite coaching staff with Frank Vogel, Brian Shaw, and others night in and night out can help players make the proper adjustments during the 15-minute break to come out hot in the second half.
Both Danny Granger (10 of his 17 points) and Paul George (7 of his 9 points) caught an offensive flow that took over the game for Indiana, but the Pacers wouldn't have been in that situation if the Broad Ripple and IUPUI superstar hadn't defended his home city in the second quarter.
From the 4:03 mark to the end of the second quarter, Hill went on to score nine points off a three-pointer, floating jumpers, and jump-shots to send the game tied to cut a five-point deficit to send the game into the locker room tied 43-43.
Hill then finished with four of his five assists in the third quarter, and helped break the sound barrier by sending the Bankers Life crowd into a frenzy two three pointers and eleven points in the fourth to finish with a team-high of 20.
"I was just trying to be aggressive," said Hill about his fourth-quarter threes, one of them being shot right over Dwayne Wade. "Like I've always said, you can't be scared to fail. I think this team has done great having a team effort today. Roy was big, D-West was big, and Danny hit big shots. Just everyone came in to play today and chipped in a little bit, and you have to be grateful for that."
The Lebron face makes an appearance at Bankers Life Fieldhouse
By all means the NBA's Most Valuable Player Lebron James was well on his way to have a spectacular game three on Thursday night, finishing with 16 points on 7-13 shooting, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists during the first half alone.
Maybe it was the fatigue of playing 20:46 of the total 24 minutes of the first half, shouldering the load of a Heat offense that outside of Mario Chalmer's career night that didn't get a single point from the other three starters during the first half; or maybe it was the outstanding defense of the Indiana Pacers.
But one thing can be proven: once the third quarter came around, James was a completely different player, losing his aggressiveness of driving to the hoop and settling for jump shots from ten feet out and behind the three-point line. James finished with two points on the quarter for one of five shooting.
So why didn't the league's three-time MVP, when the tide was shifting in the Pacers favor as Indiana, take over a game that he was having his way with before? Why couldn't James shut down an electric Pacers home crowd, or at the least put forth a better effort to keep the game close?
One would never argue that James isn't the most talented basketball player walking on the face of the Earth, but for the first time in the 2012 NBA Playoffs, Indiana got a taste of what Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks fans witnessed first-hand the last two post-seasons.
This was from my personal vantage-point on the baseline by the Pacers bench, but after Miami had called a timeout at the 5:00 minute mark after a David West tip-in sent Indiana on a 12-3 run, James had been standing near the free-throw line with the famous look that haunted Heat fans throughout the entire 2011 NBA Finals.
With the Pacers on a run and the game on the seams of being burst open, James stood before the time-out with a look of petrified horror on his face. The most skilled basketball player on the court looked nervous, confused, sad, scared, and looked around aimlessly at a loud Bankers Life crowd. Unlike his opponent in David West, who furiously yelled at Indiana during various parts of the game to bark directions and boost team morale, James did the complete opposite of anything you would want your team leader to do when a team is down 59-50.
James looked as if he wanted no part of this moment. His 3 for 9 shooting performance, with two field goals that came late in the fourth when the final of the game was all but determined, suggested this to be true.
But perhaps the most telling part of James unraveling during game three was on full exposure with 1:32 left in the third, when Danny Granger received a technical foul for getting into Lebron's face after James attempted to throw an elbow after Granger fouled him with a clear path to the basket. As Granger was separated from Lebron by the game referees, James had a big smile on his face, laughing off the altercation as he walked to the line for a free throw in an attempt to cut the Pacers 66-55 lead.
With all eyes set on Lebron at the free throw line, with a Pacers crowd heavily booing him, James took the same free throw he has has done thousands of times in his life. And in front of all to see, James rimmed it out.
Perhaps this game and performance will just be a microcosm of James' greatness, and there's always the chance James could play up to speed the rest of the series and lead Miami to a series win.
But if James brings the petrified face to game four, Miami might be in trouble in the long run.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times