MIAMI – With a leader like David West serving as the backbone of your team, there is one way and only way to assess the performance of the Indiana Pacers in what was billed as a statement game Sunday night against the Miami Heat.
Gloves off and straight to the point: that’s the way West delivered his postgame analysis after the Pacers were handled by the streaking Heat, whose franchise-best mark is at 18 after their 105-91 defeat of the Pacers team that handled them twice earlier this season.
“We didn’t compete from the opening tip,” West said. “I just don’t think we brought enough competitive fire. LeBron James has 13 points and you have to beat other guys. [Mario] Chalmers goes for 26. It’s just not enough. We didn’t compete hard enough. You can’t beat a team like that in their building as well as playing without competing.”
The Heat led by 10 in the first quarter, saw that lead slip away and then regained that 10-point cushion again in the final 13 seconds of the first half after a dunk by James and steal and jumper to beat the buzzer by Dwyane Wade.
A critical defensive tweak before the game, James moving over to guard Lance Stephenson and Wade sliding over to cover Pacers All-Star Paul George, was pivotal. Still, it was the Heat’s energy and collective defensive pressure that helped them squeeze the fight out of the Pacers after halftime.
“In the second half they turned it up a notch,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said, speaking like a coach whose team had been humbled a bit. “They were under our chins on every catch and we didn’t handle that pressure well enough. We are a young team. Paul George and Lance Stephenson are still very young players and their two superstars got the best of us.”
The Heat became just the fifth team all season to shoot at least 50 percent (55.9). They also snapped the Pacers’ four-game road win streak and ended the Pacers’ streak of holding opponents under 100 points at 12 games.
Both Vogel and George went to their silver linings playbook after the drubbing, with both of them pointing out that the Heat couldn’t run completely away from the Pacers after halftime. West, however, didn’t seem interested in searching through the wreckage for any moral victories.
“I just thought that we didn’t respond to the challenge,” he said. “They came out and they made the adjustment. They got us cross-matched. We just didn’t have enough pop. That’s probably the worst defensive game we played all year. It was just too comfortable and they took away our space. [There was] just no fire in us today. We were on our heels. Any time a guy crawls into your space, and you’re leaning back, they’ve got the power advantage. It’s a position of strength versus a position of weakness. They were in a position of strength against us all night.”
How long this one night lingers for the Pacers will be hard to gauge. They won’t see the Heat again this season unless it’s in a playoff series, when their two wins over the Heat won’t mean any more than the Heat’s lone win over them.
“Our team has shown great resolve all year,” Vogel said. “And I have every confidence that they are going to respond in the playoffs.”