INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul George made no attempt to downplay the importance of his matchup with LeBron James.
“It’s a chance to for me to see where I’m at, going against one of the best, if not, the best in the league,” George said. “Another challenge to myself to go at LeBron. I definitely wanted to battle him.”
George rose to the occasion with 29 points and 11 rebounds, and the Pacers held Miami to a season-low point total in an 87-77 win over the Heat on Tuesday night.
George has moved from shooting guard to small forward and has become a primary scoring option with Danny Granger, Indiana’s leading scorer last season, out all season because of a left knee injury.
Indiana’s 22-year-old forward has earned James’ respect for the way he has handled his new responsibilities.
“I see him playing with a lot of confidence and a lot of opportunities,” James said. “The simple fact that Danny Granger is hurt has created this opportunity for him to show what he can do. He’s doing everything. He was a good player last year, but we weren’t able to see it because he wasn’t a featured player.”
David West added 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Lance Stephenson chipped in with 13 points for the Pacers (21-14), who have won 11 of their last 14 games.
Dwyane Wade scored 30 points and James had 22 points and 10 rebounds for Miami (23-10), which still has the best record in the Eastern Conference. It was the first time the teams had met since Miami beat the Pacers in six games in the conference semifinals last year.
The Pacers outrebounded the Heat 55-36 to help make up for 36 percent shooting.
“That was a big emphasis tonight,” George said. “Miami is a team that, for as good as they are, they struggle with rebounding. We knew that coming in. We knew that we had to get the boards. And we’re bigger. We’re a big team.”
George had gone 8 for 29 in his previous two games, but he broke out of his slump by making 12 of 27 shots against Miami.
Miami entered the game leading the NBA in field goal percentage, while Indiana led the league in field goal percentage defense. The matchup resulted in the Heat scoring only 35 points in the second half, their lowest-scoring half of the season.
“Offensively, we did not have a very fluid game on that side of the court,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I’ll have to take care of that tomorrow.”
Indiana led 38-28 in the second quarter before the Heat rallied late in the half. Wade hit a 3-pointer to cut Indiana’s lead to 38-37, and a putback by James gave the Heat the lead. The teams were tied at 42 at halftime. Wade scored 23 points in the first half, including 16 in the second quarter.
The Heat found their offensive flow in the early minutes of the second half. A 3-pointer by Mario Chalmers gave the Heat a 51-44 lead and caused the Pacers to call a timeout, but Indiana rallied. Stephenson found West in the corner for a 3-pointer, then Stephenson made a 3-pointer to give the Pacers a 55-53 lead.
George made consecutive 3-pointers to make it 67-57 at the end of the quarter. The Pacers made 5 of 8 from 3-point range in the period. Miami scored just 15 points on 7-for-18 shooting in the third and Wade went scoreless.
George opened the fourth with a jumper over James to expand Indiana’s lead to 12, and Ian Mahinmi’s putback bumped it to 14.
Another 3 by George made it 77-60 with about 8 minutes to go, and the Pacers remained comfortably ahead the rest of the way.
Wade scored just seven points on 1-for-4 shooting in the second half. George said Stephenson deserved credit for bothering Wade.
“He made it hard for him in the second half,” George said. “Everybody was locked in to his drive and tried to contest all his shots.”
The Pacers were subdued in the locker room after the game, perhaps a sign that they have come to expect such victories.
“We can’t overreact to this,” West said. “We’re just happy to get a win. That’s a good basketball team.