The play inside the Disney World bubble has been entertaining, and that trend continued on Tuesday afternoon with Game 1 of the first-round series between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat. After a hard-fought, back-and-forth game that lived up to expectations, the Heat pulled away late in the fourth quarter for a 113-101 win.
Jimmy Butler arrived in Miami this season with a desire to be the main man and lead his own team. He played the part in the regular season, and certainly did so in Game 1 against the Pacers. Shooting 8-for-15 from the field, including a shocking 2-for-2 from 3-point land, Butler filled up the box score as per usual, finishing with 28 points, three rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks.
The Pacers hung tough, and were able to keep things competitive for much of the second half. TJ Warren kept up his strong play in the bubble and finished with 22 points, while Malcolm Brogdon matched him with 22 of his own. But after losing Victor Oladipo to an eye injury in the first quarter, they ultimately just didn’t have enough to keep up with the Heat the entire way, and faded down the stretch.
Here are three key takeaways from the game:
1. Oladipo injured again
Victor Oladipo was originally not going to play in the bubble. In fact, he had an entire sit-down interview with Shams Charania of The Athletic in which he laid out why it just didn’t make sense for him given his previous quad injury, and the circumstances under which teams are playing. Then, suddenly he changed his mind.
Why, exactly, isn’t super clear, but he looked solid in the seeding games. Definitely not his pre-injury self, but much better than when he initially returned to the court in the month before the shutdown. Unfortunately, he’s now dealing with an entirely different problem after being poked in the eye by Jae Crowder late in the first quarter during a scramble for a loose ball.
Oladipo left the game, and has since made his way to the hospital to be evaluated. While it’s still too early to speculate on how long he might be out, the initial reports don’t sound encouraging. His vision was “really blurry,” head coach Nate McMillan said after the game. “He really couldn’t see out of his eye when we saw him at halftime.”
This is suddenly the main storyline in this series. With a healthy Oladipo, the Pacers had a real chance to advance to the second round for the first time since 2014. Without him, it’s going to be extremely tough to keep up with the Heat.
2. Jimmy Buckets gets it done
Few players in the league crave the pressure and responsibility of being the team’s best player quite like Jimmy Butler, and that’s certainly what he got when he forced his way to the Heat via a sign-and-trade last summer. Against the Pacers, he passed his first test with flying colors.
When he checked into the game early in the fourth quarter, the Heat were clinging to a two-point lead, at 89-87. From that point on, they outscored the Pacers 24-14 to pull away for a 12-point win, with Butler scoring 10 of the final 12 points for the Heat down the stretch.
Goran Dragic, earning a rare start, deserves recognition for the huge fourth quarter he had as well, because the Heat don’t win this game without him. But it was Butler’s play over the final few minutes that really closed the show. In one sequence he hit a rare 3-pointer, came down on the other end and forced a jump ball, won that tip to secure possession, then immediately drilled another triple.
Butler was a disaster from the 3-point line this season, shooting 24.4 percent, which was the third-worst mark in the entire league among players who attempted at least 100 3s, and he had just seven games with multiple makes from downtown. That he secured his first playoff win in Miami with his outside shot was fitting in a way, another reminder of his confidence and desire to prove everyone wrong.
3. Heat limit turnovers in the second half
Despite shooting nearly 50 percent from the field, knocking down six 3-pointers and getting to the free throw line at will, the Heat led by just four points at halftime. That was in large part due to their inability to take care of the basketball, as they coughed up eight turnovers, leading to 21 points for the Pacers.
Fixing that was an emphasis for Miami coming out of the break, and whatever head coach Erik Spoelstra talked about inside the locker room clearly got across to his players. They had just one turnover the entire second half, and the Pacers only got two points off of it. Unable to get easy points off of the Heat’s mistakes, and playing without Oladipo, the Pacers’ offense sputtered late in the game.