LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Indiana Pacers find themselves on the verge of elimination after losing 124-115 to the Miami Heat on Saturday afternoon to fall behind 3-0 in their best-of-seven first-round series.
A major factor in the defeat was that the Heat went to the free throw line a staggering 52 times, including 20 trips for Heat forward Jimmy Butler alone. The Pacers went 28 times.
“I can’t explain that,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said after the game. “I mean, 52 free throws is ridiculous. They had 24 at the half, Butler shoots 20 of them … this is the playoffs, and I thought some of those calls were … I can’t explain it.”
Indiana is one loss away from being swept in the first round for the second straight year and for the third time in four years. It also would be the team’s fifth straight first-round exit from the playoffs.
When the Pacers were down 18 at halftime, it appeared as if they were going to simply roll over without much of a fight.
But then, after the team had a discussion in the locker room, the Pacers came out in the second half with a much better effort, closing to within four points after three quarters, before eventually losing a nip and tuck game with poor execution down the stretch.
“At that point, you have nothing to lose,” Pacers guard Victor Oladipo said of the team’s approach in the second half. “It was either, ‘Make something happen or get embarrassed.’ One of the two. We did a great job of fighting and getting ourselves into the game. But unfortunately, a lot of things happened, you know what I’m saying? Unfortunately, I tore my quad. Unfortunately, none of this wouldn’t have happened if not for corona.
“Unfortunately, a lot of things happen. You can make excuses, you can blame everybody or you can just figure it out. In the second half, we did a better job of just figuring it out. We came up short, obviously, but we have to have that same mentality in the next game and go out there and do the impossible. I know everyone thinks it’s over and thinks it’s a wrap. I’m sure they do too. But it’s been done before, and why can’t we do it? We have to have that mentality and truly believe that if we want to accomplish something special.”
It will certainly take something special for Indiana to become the first team to ever come back from a 3-0 deficit and win an NBA playoff series.
Doing so, however, will require Indiana to be far more disciplined than it was on Saturday. The Heat — and Butler in particular — were able to wear out a path walking to and from the free throw line.
The difference between Miami’s made free throws (43) and made field goals (34) is the largest this season, including both regular-season and playoff games; and it was the largest difference in a playoff game since the Los Angeles Lakers had 12 more free throws than field goals against the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012.
Since 2000, it was the sixth-most free throws attempted by one team in a playoff game that ended in regulation. The other five all included players who are notoriously bad free throw shooters the opponent would want to send to the line, such as Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan, Ben Wallace and Shaquille O’Neal.
“Yeah, there’s definitely a discrepancy out there on how many free throws they shot versus us” Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon said. “I don’t know if that’s a mix of the refs, us not being aggressive enough, whatever.
“But that has to change.”
One person who didn’t see an issue was Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
“That helps you control the pace and the tenor of the game,” Spoelstra said of repeatedly getting to the foul line. “So when they would go on runs and gain some enthusiasm, Jimmy would find a way or Bam [Adebayo] or whoever would find a way to get to the free throw line, and that just helps you settle things, and that’s a great skill that we don’t take for granted.
“In a playoff game, to be able to have 20 free throw attempts [from Jimmy] — and those were all collisions. It’s not as if he’s flopping his way to the line. He’s putting his body in there and drawing contact and making you have to make the call.”