Basketball: Pacers draw first blood in their showdown with defending NBA champs Heat

(AFP) - Paul George racked up 24 points and six assists as the Indiana Pacers pounded reigning NBA champions Miami 107-96 Sunday in the opening game of their Eastern Conference final series.

The Pacers started quickly by draining six of their first seven three-point attempts en route to a wire-to-wire victory to begin the best-of-seven series against the two-time defending National Basketball Association champions.

"We have been struggling in the opening games of playoff series at home," George said. "If we were to lose the first game against a great club like the Miami Heat it would have made this a very long series.

"We came out with a great urgency to get this one."

The Pacers shot 59 percent from the field in the first half to lead 55-45 at half-time in front of a crowd of 18,165 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana continued to dictate the pace in the second half, leading by as much as 19 in the third quarter. This is a rematch of last year's conference championship, which was won in seven games by the Heat. Miami also defeated Indiana in the quarter-final round of the 2012 playoffs. Game Two is Tuesday in Indianapolis.

The winner of this series will play either San Antonio or Oklahoma City in next month's NBA finals.

Roy Hibbert and David West each scored 19 points for the Pacers, whose entire starting five finished in double figures. Hibbert also had nine rebounds and three assists in the victory as the Pacers moved to 6-0 in this year's playoffs when Hibbert scores 10-or-more points. Lance Stephenson posted 17 points, eight assists and four rebounds and George Hill added 15 points for the Pacers, who improved to 4-4 at home in the playoffs. The Pacers ended up shooting 42.1 percent from three-point range Sunday.

"We moved the ball. We shared it and we played with energy," George said. "We didn't let the ball stay stagnant. "A great defence like Miami's thrives on loading up on the strong side and we did a great job of moving the ball to the weak side."

Dwyane Wade scored 27 points and LeBron James finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds for the Heat, who beat the Brooklyn Nets in five games to reach the conference finals.

"We are a confident team and we feel like we can win here," Wade said. "We're going to have to play a lot better on the defensive end of the floor."

George says they can't take the Heat for granted in Game Two.

He said: "They are the champions. They know what it is like to be in the position they are in right now. We got to come out and play the same way we did tonight."

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