Managing success was not a strength for the Indiana Pacers during the second half of the regular season.
It nearly cost them in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
They vow not to make the same mistake after Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Impressive though they were during Sunday’s 107-96 win against the Miami Heat, the Pacers understand that the best-of-seven series has only just begun. They haven’t won anything yet — a reality that didn’t sink in when they had the NBA’s best record at the All-Star break.
After finishing with the league’s fourth-best record and barely surviving the first round of the playoffs, they understand — more than ever — that the series will have to be won.
Miami won’t concede it.
“That will be the test. We’ve been complacent many times in series and throughout the whole year,” said forward Paul George, who had a team-high 24 points in Sunday’s victory. “We’ve got to stay humbled off this win and come in with the same mindset that we’ve got to get another one, and let it all go from there.”
George Hill, who was one of six Pacers in double figures in Game 1, echoed the sentiment. What happened Sunday means nothing tonight when the top-seeded Pacers host No. 2 seed Miami in Game 2.
“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 (tonight), this game doesn’t mean anything.”
In each of the first two rounds, the Pacers squandered home-court advantage by losing Game 1 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. They were able to recover on the road, however, and take both series.
But this time, against this opponent, the odds of securing the series on the road — should it become necessary — are much higher.
Two-time defending NBA champion Miami, after all, is not Atlanta or Washington. It was the league’s hottest team heading into the conference finals and, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, is exceedingly capable of rallying from an 0-1 deficit.
But to do it, the Heat have to win at least once in Indianapolis — a fact the Pacers, who are a disappointing 4-4 at home thus far in the playoffs, are keenly aware. Hence, their rare sense of Game 1 urgency.
Indiana led wire-to-wire; had six players in double figures, including all five starters; and for one of the few times since the All-Star break, resembled a team capable of reaching the NBA Finals.
“(Winning Game 1) was extremely important, especially playing against the two-time champs,” George said. “This is a game we needed, and we couldn’t let this one go. We had a past of dropping Game 1s in this playoff run, and that would have been a huge setback for this team.”
Instead, the Pacers took a bold step forward in what promises to be a grueling series.
Besides George, the Pacers got efficient performances from starters David West (19 points, seven rebounds), Roy Hibbert (19 points, nine rebounds), Lance Stephenson (17 points) and Hill (15 points) and won the rebounding battle, 45-39.
Although the collective effort was reminiscent of the first half of the season, when the Pacers raced to the NBA’s best record on the strength of defense, rebounding and consistent double-figure scoring by all five starters, they are reluctant to trumpet a return to past glory.
Rather, their focus is the here and now. Tonight is a chance to take another bold step. Game 1 was simply the blueprint for what they’re trying to accomplish.
“We played with a great energy. That’s an area where we lacked this postseason, being consistent with our energy to start games off,” George said. “I thought we brought that. We brought a toughness. We brought an edge. We brought an aggression.
“We know Miami is going to play well at home. They play well on the road, as well, but we like our chances being at home.”