Pacers coach Frank Vogel saw his entire starting five get into foul trouble in Game 1.
MIAMI -- The evidence of just how frustrated the Indiana Pacers were after losing Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Sunday to the Miami Heat lay crumpled on the floor in the visitors’ locker room.
Eventually, guard George Hill picked it up and opened the balled-up sheet of paper that revealed the final statistics from the Pacers' 95-86 loss at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The dozens of reporters who filled Indiana's locker room after the game were long on questions. But when it came to trying to explain exactly what factors led to the Heat snatching the victory, the Pacers were short on answers.
The postgame theme for Indiana was simple and easy to understand: Keep your mouth shut regarding any feelings on the officiating, and keep your money in your pocket.
The Pacers didn't cry foul after falling down 1-0 in the best-of-seven second round series. Instead, they basically protested in silence by tip-toeing around the disparity they felt played a significant role in the outcome of the game. A nine-point loss by the Pacers included them being called for nine more fouls than Miami (31-22) and also being outscored by nine points (29-20) from the free throw line.
“It's unfortunate,” Hill said, making sure to avoid addressing the way the game was officiated. “No comment on that. We saw what everybody else saw. We know. Y'all know. The whole world knows. Sometimes, you just have to keep what you're thinking to yourself.”
This was essentially the game the Pacers played after the actual game that got away from them in the fourth quarter when they had no answers for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who combined for 63 points to carry the Heat after Chris Bosh left in the first half with an abdominal strain. The Heat were forced to abandon their post-up game after Bosh's injury, but James and Wade adjusted by relentlessly driving into the lane and attacking the basket.
James and Wade combined to attempt 24 free throws compared with 28 by Indiana's entire team. It was a product of the Heat's more aggressive play and a few careless fouls by the Pacers. But Indiana came into the series calling into question the Heat's propensity to draw foul calls, specifically James and Wade. Pacers coach Frank Vogel was also fined $15,000 by the league office on Saturday for trying to influence referees when he called the Heat the “biggest flopping team in the NBA” last week.
The Pacers are regarded as one of the most physical teams in the league and rank among the NBA's leaders in fouls. And they quickly lived up to that reputation Sunday, when they led by as many as nine points in the first half but had already accumulated 16 fouls by halftime.
After the game, a point was also made in the Pacers' locker room that the Heat benefited from a similar free-throw discrepancy in Game 1 victory against the Knicks the first round. Miami attempted 22 more free throws than New York in a 33-point victory in Game 1 at home on the way to winning the series in five games.
“Our guys are fouling too much,” Vogel said after the game. “We are trying to be aggressive, but you can't be aggressive and foul unnecessarily. It hurts your rotation.”
Eventually, the Pacers' entire starting five was in foul trouble, and the rhythm they played with in the first half was slipping away as Wade and James got going. At one point midway through the game, Indiana's total fouls were twice the number for which Miami had been called.
“I don't even know if I can comment on that, to tell you the truth,” said Pacers forward Danny Granger, who also struggled through a 1-for-10 shooting effort from the field. “You look down our starting lineup and we had five fouls, five fouls, six fouls, four fouls, four fouls. We all left the game in foul trouble at some point. It changed the way you play. It definitely does. I've never been in a situation like that.”
Despite the Heat being heavily favored to make it back to the NBA Finals, the third-seeded Pacers came into the series with the Eastern Conference's best record over the final 20 games of the regular season and confident about their chances against the second-seeded Heat. But Miami pulled away Sunday in the final five minutes when they closed the game on a 9-0 run. The Pacers couldn't get much going offensively, either. They shot 40.3 percent from the field and missed 13 of 17 attempts from 3-point range.
“This one hurt,” Hibbert said, “because we have the capabilities to beat this team.”
A point of private contention among the Pacers was that their starters -- Granger, Hill, Roy Hibbert, David West and Paul George -- were limited by a combined 23 fouls while James, Wade, Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers had a total of 10 among them.
George said the Pacers showed they're capable of making this a tougher series than many expect if they defend with more discipline and match Miami's offensive aggression.
“We definitely let this one get away,” George said. “It just seemed like we weren't supposed to win this one. Everybody in this room knew we had this game but it's -- we weren't supposed to win this one. We did a lot of good things [and] some things we still need to work on. But we feel confident playing this team.”
Indiana downplayed the notion that it could benefit in Game 2 on Tuesday from the potential absence of Bosh, who is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of his injury. At 6-foot-11, Bosh is the Heat's tallest player in the Heat's primary rotation and also their best offensive post threat. But when Bosh left Sunday, Granger said his team didn't gain a great sense of relief.
“When you think of Miami, you usually think of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James,” Granger said. “Chris Bosh is another really, really good player. But it really didn't cross my mind. We were just fully focused on not letting those two [Wade and James] go off.”
The Pacers are poised to make adjustments for Game 2. But none might not be bigger than figuring out a way to get a handle on the Heat in this series -- without fouling.
“I don't know how we adjust to that, honestly,” Granger said. “You saw the stat sheet. You saw our numbers. We just have to be aware of that and either do something less or do something more. I don't know what I can say, to tell you the truth. I'm going to leave that one alone.”