INDIANAPOLIS — Roy Hibbert threw all the inside body jabs Tuesday night. Paul George finished it off with the knockout blow.
Together, the Pacers’ devastating one-two scoring punch did it again to the champs.
Hibbert finished with 24 points, George made two big 3-pointers during a 15-point second half scoring spree and Indiana rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit to take Round 1 against Miami 90-84.
“It was fun, a real intense game,” George said. “Both teams were playing at a high level. You could see an urgency to win this game tonight.”
While Indiana extended its franchise-record home start to a perfect 10-0 and took a three-game advantage over Miami in the early chase for home-court advantage, this was no ordinary regular season game.
During pregame media availability, Indiana’s Lance Stephenson said this game felt like a championship matchup. Two of Miami’s big three, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, tried to downplay that sort of talk by explaining this was not a win or go home night.
The hometown fans didn’t care what the Heat thought. They were already in postseason form, booing loudly at the officials, chanting “He’s a flopper” on some contestable foul calls and eventually serenading Miami players with those familiar chants of “Beat the Heat.”
But the Pacers (19-3) also understood this was only be the start of a season-long quest that could pit the two best teams in the East in the conference finals for a second straight year.
First, there’s the rematch in Miami on Dec. 18. They won’t meet again until March 26 in Indy, then head back to Miami on April 11 before what most expect to be a third straight meeting in the playoffs. If those games have as much intrigue and pizazz as Tuesday night’s showdown, they may be the most compelling all season.
And the Pacers can’t wait to show how much they can improve — even on a win over the two-time champs and four-time MVP LeBron James.
“It’s just one game,” Hibbert said. “We’re going to learn from it. It’s a learning experience. It’s still early in the season. We have a lot more work to do.”
To the average fan, it looked a lot like last season’s playoff series, which Miami won in seven games.
Hibbert dominated the middle, scoring nine of Indiana’s first 11 points and making a season-high 10 baskets — most from point-blank range — despite playing in the second half with cotton in his nose. David West added 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists including a left-handed 4-foot runner that gave Indiana an 88-81 lead with 38.9 seconds to go.
James’ defense and Miami’s physical double-teams frustrated George most of the night, but when George finally got free late, he made three big 3-pointers s to help the Pacers pull away. George, the NBA’s No. 4 scorer, finished with 17 points, three rebounds and four assists.
“I knew it was going to be a night when I was going to explode offensively,” George said. “I knew I had to move the ball and share it.”
Chasing George all night apparently took a toll on James and the Heat (16-6).
While James, the league’s No. 2 scorer did get 17 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, he was just 3 of 11 from the field with nine points over the final 36 minutes — three quarters when Miami failed to top the 20-point mark and had five turnovers. Wade also finished with 17 points, while Bosh added 12.
It was Miami’s third loss in five games.
“I thought we brought it tonight,” James said. “We know they’re a very good defensive team. I thought they hit some tough shots and they attacked the rim real well but even though they had us down by 10 rebounds, I thought we rebounded well and we battled.”
Aside from the slow start, the Pacers couldn’t have produced a better script.
SUNS 114, LAKERS 108
LOS ANGELES — Goran Dragic scored 31 points and Phoenix kept Los Angeles winless with Kobe Bryant back in the lineup.
Bryant led the Lakers with 20 points while playing 29 mostly sharp minutes in his second game back from a nearly eight-month absence with a torn Achilles tendon. He led a fourth-quarter rally by the Lakers, who got within four points with 3 minutes left before Phoenix held on for its first three-game winning streak of the season.
Marcus Morris scored 22 points and Eric Bledsoe had 18 points and nine assists for the surprising Suns, who never trailed after the opening minutes. Phoenix held off the Lakers with superb fourth-quarter play from both Morris brothers. Markieff Morris added 15 points.
SPURS 116, RAPTORS 103
TORONTO — Manu Ginobili scored 16 points, Tony Parker had 15 and San Antonio beat Toronto for the sixth straight time.
Tim Duncan scored 14 points and Aron Baynes had a career-best 14 as the Spurs overcame a 14-point first quarter deficit to improve to 26-9 all-time against Toronto.
San Antonio has won three of six since its 11-game winning streak was halted with a loss at Oklahoma City on Nov. 27.
Danny Green had 14 points for the Spurs, while Marco Belinelli had 12 and Patty Mills 11.
DeMar DeRozan scored 19 points and Amir Johnson had 19 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors, who lost for the sixth time in seven games.
NETS 104, CELTICS 96
NEW YORK — Deron Williams scored a season-high 25 points in his return to the lineup, Brook Lopez added 24, and Brooklyn beat Boston in the first matchup for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett against their former team.
Garnett had 11 points, just his third time in double figures for the Nets this season, and grabbed nine rebounds. Pierce finished with four points and seven rebounds in his first appearance off the bench in six years after making a quick recovery from a broken right hand.
Avery Bradley scored 22 points and Jeff Green had 19 for the Celtics, who have been competitive after trading away two of their most important players from their 2008 NBA championship team. Boston had a three-game winning streak snapped and its Atlantic Division-leading record fell to 10-13 record.
CAVALIERS 109, KNICKS 94
CLEVELAND — Kyrie Irving scored 37 points and Jarrett Jack added 17 points, leading Cleveland past sinking New York.
Irving added 11 assists. The All-Star point guard had 12 points in the third quarter, when the Cavs outscored the defenseless Knicks 33-20 and pulled away. Tristan Thompson added 12 points and nine rebounds as Cleveland won its fourth straight at home.
New York, coming off an embarrassing 41-point loss at home to Boston, dropped to 5-15 and made coach Mike Woodson’s future even more uncertain.
Carmelo Anthony scored 29 and Amare Stoudemire 15 for the Knicks, who erased an early 18-point deficit, gave it all back, fell behind by 19 and lost for the 11th time in 13 games.
TIMBERWOLVES 121, PISTONS 94
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Kevin Love had 26 points and 16 rebounds to lead Minnesota.
Love only played 30 minutes, sitting out the fourth quarter with the big lead. Detroit was unable to stop him inside, outside or on the break. Several of his seven assists came on his trademark 70-foot outlet passes off missed shots.
Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin added 18 points each for Minnesota, which finished with six players in double figures.
Brandon Jennings had 20 points for Detroit, but Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond were held to a combined total of 18 points and 10 rebounds.
The Pistons have relied heavily on their frontcourt this season, but didn’t have the advantage in that matchup against Minnesota.
THUNDER 101, HAWKS 92
ATLANTA — Kevin Durant scored 30 points and Oklahoma City won for the 11th time in 12 games.
Shelvin Mack scored 17 points off the bench to lead an Atlanta comeback but finally cooled off at the end.
Coming off an impressive 118-94 home victory over Indiana, the Thunder had more trouble on the road against the Hawks. But the result was the same: another Oklahoma City victory, despite a tough night for Russell Westbrook. He was held to 14 points on 6-of-21 shooting, though he did sink an impressive reverse layup with 1:41 remaining to help finish off Atlanta.
Durant made 9 of 21 from the field and 11 of 15 free throws.
Paul Millsap led the Hawks with 23 points.
BUCKS 78, BULLS 74
CHICAGO — John Henson had 25 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots, and Milwaukee beat Chicago in a matchup of injury-riddled teams trying to break out of a slump.
Brandon Knight added 19 points and 10 rebounds for Milwaukee, which had dropped three of four. O.J. Mayo was just 2 for 12 from the field, but had seven assists and made a couple of big plays in the fourth quarter.
Chicago used only eight players after Joakim Noah was sidelined by a bruised right thigh. Carlos Boozer was the only starter in the lineup from the season opener at Miami.
Mike Dunleavy scored 18 of his 24 points in the second quarter, but the Bulls struggled on offense in the latter part of their fourth loss in five games. Boozer finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds.