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Friday, January 19, 2007

Short-Handed Pacers Come up Just Short Versus Miami

The Miami Heat built a 16 point fourth quarter lead and withstood a furious fourth quarter rally to defeat the Indiana Pacers, 104-101. Dwyane Wade had 33 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Danny Granger led the short-handed Pacers with a career-high 28 points. Indiana did not have the services of the recently traded Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson--the team's second and third leading scorers--nor could the Pacers use their newly acquired players because the principals involved in the Indiana-Golden State trade have not yet taken their physicals and joined their new teams.

Miami outplayed Indiana for most of the game but only led 55-49 at halftime. The Pacers stayed close in the first half by shooting 3-6 from three point range (Miami was 0-3) and shooting 6-8 on free throws (Miami was just 3-5). Game analyst Doug Collins observed, "Indiana is a resilient team." That would become even more evident in the fourth quarter. Wade and Granger each led their respective teams with 18 first half points. During TNT's halftime show, Barkley declared, "Indiana will finish with a better record than Cleveland," the team that currently has the best record in the East. Barkley clarified that he does not think that the Pacers will get the top seed; he believes that Cleveland will fall back into the pack down the stretch unless the Cavaliers address their problems at point guard. Smith is not buying that for one second; he expects the Pacers to stay right about where they are now in the standings (currently sixth in the Eastern Conference).

In the third quarter, Miami began to pull away and the Heat led 85-70 at the end of the period. The contest seemed to be heading toward garbage time--but the Pacers are indeed quite resilient and they battled back from an 89-73 deficit at the 9:21 mark of the fourth quarter to pull within 96-91 after Jeff Foster's three point play with 2:28 remaining. Foster is a relentless rebounder, particularly on the offensive glass--he had nine rebounds, including six offensive rebounds, in this game--and his putback and free throw made the Miami fans quite nervous, as evidenced by how quiet the once raucous crowd got after that play. Marquis Daniels cut off Wade's drive and forced him to shoot an airball jumper and the Pacers had a golden opportunity to steal the game--which Collins said would be "grand theft" considering how much Miami had dominated for most of the contest. On Indiana's next possession, Daniels' dribbled the ball off of Alonzo Mourning's foot but only half heartedly pursued the ball as it went into the backcourt; as Collins so aptly put it, he "looked guilty." After the ball rolled out of bounds, the officials blew the call and awarded possession to Miami. Jason Williams' jumper put the Heat up 98-92 and after the Pacers scored he hit another jumper to make the score 100-94. The Pacers still kept scratching and clawing, though, and two Jermaine O'Neal free throws and yet another Foster putback brought them to within 100-98.

The closing seconds proved to be quite frenetic. Two Wade free throws pushed the lead to four but a Shawne Williams three pointer wiped out most of that margin. With only 13 seconds left, it was obvious that the Pacers had to foul but Wade eluded their attempts to grab him as he dribbled the ball. As he got close to the hoop, it looked like a Pacer fouled him and Wade launched a shot, hoping to get a three point play--but no foul was called. Wade made the basket but that provided the Pacers with 4.3 seconds to try to tie the game. He would of course never have shot the ball if he didn't think that he had been fouled and replays showed that he was pushed in the chest. The whole sequence looked very strange. Granger's three point attempt missed as time ran out.

***Notes***

TNT's Charles Barkley likes the recent trade in which Indiana acquired Mike Dunleavy, Ike Diogu, Todd Murphy and Keith McLeod from Golden State for Al Harrington, Stephen Jackson, Sarunas Jasikevicious and Josh Powell. Barkley expects Murphy to return to his previous form as a double-double performer while playing alongside Jermaine O'Neal and believes that Dunleavy and Diogu are better suited for Indiana's playing style than they are for Golden State's. Kenny Smith called this an "Excedrin" trade, saying that the teams basically exchanged headaches. Harrington has complained about his role and Jackson's off court problems have been well documented; Dunleavy, Diogu and Murphy had all fallen out of favor with new Golden State Coach Don Nelson. The outgoing Indiana players have more athletic talent than their replacements but the deal could work out well for both teams.

I think that Indiana got the better end of the deal. I agree with Barkley that Dunleavy and Murphy will blend in well with O'Neal and I think that Diogu is an underrated player who will be very productive for the Pacers.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:25 AM

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