INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Chris Bosh blamed Miami’s problems Sunday on the defense.
Dwyane Wade thought the Heat needed to be more aggressive in the paint.
LeBron James wasn’t about to start dissecting what went wrong Sunday, though one thing was clear: Miami has to find a solution — and fast.
Paul George finished with 24 points and seven assists, David West added 19 points and seven rebounds, and suddenly surging Indiana led wire-to-wire in a 107-96 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
“We had a lot of mistakes and they took advantage of it,” James said. “No one had it going. We had some really good looks. They didn’t fall, and we’ve just got to do a better job executing in the next game.”
If they don’t, the two-time defending NBA champs could find themselves on the ropes quickly in this best-of-seven series.
Game 2 is Tuesday night in Indy, and the home team has won all five meetings this season. Miami hasn’t lost two straight playoff games since losing three straight to the Celtics in the 2012 conference finals — a span of 39 games.
To keep that streak intact, James and Wade need much more help. James had 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Wade had 27 points. The rest of the starters combined for 18 points in a game that Miami never even had a chance to tie after the first 40 seconds.
“We need to touch the paint. We need paint points,” Wade said. “We need myself, LeBron especially, and Mario (Chalmers) to attack the paint to be able to open up our shooters so they can get into a better flow, a better rhythm.”
Given the problems, the results were predictable.
For the first time in this year’s playoffs, the Pacers won a series opener. And for the first time in their last three playoff battles against the Heat, the Pacers won Game 1.
All five Indiana starters and backup C.J. Watson scored in double figures, helping Indiana produce its highest point total of the playoffs.
The Pacers limited the Heat to just four offensive rebounds and 6-of-23 shooting from beyond the arc. James went 1 of 5 on 3s and shot just two free throws, and Miami fell so far behind so fast, it never even had a chance to tie the score.
Indiana shared the ball, limited its turnovers, maintained its poise and got contributions from everyone in a game it had to win. Roy Hibbert finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, Lance Stephenson had 17 points and eight assists, and George Hill added 15 points as the Pacers looked more like the team that was so dominant over the first half of the season, rather than the one struggled so mightily in the second half.
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.”
Clearly, the Pacers weren’t the same team that spent most of the last three months answering questions about their second-half swoon.
Indiana swarmed the glass, exploited its size advantage, knocked down six of its first seven 3-pointers and forced the Heat into playing 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 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 102-84 with 4:11 to go.
Now comes the hard part — doing it all over again Tuesday night.
“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.