INDIANAPOLIS — The normal blueprint for Indiana Pacers games this season has been simple: they fall behind after an awful start, claw their way back, and win if they have a strong enough fourth quarter.
Friday night, the opposite was the case. The Pacers had a fine start and were down just one point after the first quarter. They were up by 12 at halftime. Despite a Chris Duarte injury in the first quarter, Indiana put together a solid opening to the game, which has been rare for them this season.
The blue and gold kept up their pressure on the Miami defense throughout the half, which can be challenging. Head coach Rick Carlisle discussed the difficulties of playing against Miami's defense before the game.
Indiana has been a much better second half team than first half team this season, so a 12-point lead at the break was a big deal. But the Heat have never been a team to give up easily, and they didn't on Friday.
Miami cut Indiana's lead down as low as one point in the third quarter, their defense looked much stronger to open the second half. They shrunk the floor and made it difficult for the Pacers to get into their offense, Indiana scored just 18 points in the third quarter. Some big shots from guard Tyrese Haliburton prevented the Heat from taking the lead, but they made the game interesting heading into the fourth quarter.
"They're one of the few teams that really plays a lot of zone and gives a lot of multiple looks, both full court and half court. We were making slight adjustments throughout," Carlisle said of Miami after the game. "They're going to test you with a bunch of different looks defensively."
The fourth quarter was a back-and-forth affair, it was an excellent game for fans. After holding the lead for much of the second half, the Pacers finally gave it up when Miami tied the game at 94 with 5:35 to go. The Heat had momentum, and their defense had been great for the better part of the last 20 minutes.
But the Pacers found a defensive gear of their own. They held the Heat to three points in the next five-plus minutes and found themselves up by three with 21.6 on the clock. Miami had the ball.
Myles Turner blocked a Max Strus layup, but Miami retained possession, so the Pacers intentionally fouled. Now up one, the Pacers had the ball, and Miami fouled to send rookie Bennedict Mathurin to the line.
He split the pair, setting up a dramatic finish. The Heat had the ball down 101-99 with 7.6 to go. Tyler Herro caught the ball at the top of the key, but he couldn't get it done at the buzzer:
"I just wanted to make a stop for my team," Rookie guard Andrew Nembhard said of stopping Herro on the final possession. Nembhard drew a ton of praise after the game for his play in this game, he was a +13 and made numerous big plays. "I just tried to make it a tough shot."
The Pacers improved to 4-5 with the win, their best start through nine games under Carlisle. Speaking of Carlisle, he got his 865th win as a head coach in this game, which moved him into sole possession of 14th place all time.
Buddy Hield was excellent again in this game, scoring 25 points against the connected Heat defense. He had 22 points in the first half. The sweet-shooting guard is averaging nearly 23 points per game in his last five games, and he was crucial in helping Indiana avoid a slow start.
Haliburton nearly finished with a triple-double, posting a stat line of 22 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists. Not to be outdone, Mathurin finished with 23 points and hit a free throw late to keep the lead at two. He had seven points in the fourth quarter.
Turner bounced back from a poor game on Monday and finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, and three blocks. He held his own against Bam Adebayo, which was key in the win.
Indiana will next hit the court on Monday when they host the New Orleans Pelicans. They will look to get back to .500, somewhere they have not been since they were 15-15 in February of 2021.The Pacers are still considered the most likely team to make a Russell Westbrook trade as Myles Turner comments on the Lakers rumors. CLICK HERE.AllPacers chats one-on-one with former Indiana Pacers forward Justin Anderson. Exclusive interview here: CLICK HERE.Chris Duarte breaks out of his slump in Brooklyn, drops career-high 30 points for the Indiana Pacers. CLICK HERE.Indiana Pacers mock trade review: Checking out four deals from Bleacher Report. CLICK HERE.Follow AllPacers on Facebook: All Pacers SIFollow on Twitter: @SIPacers