The Indiana Pacers beat Miami 109-92 on Friday in a preview of their upcoming National Basketball Association (NBA) play-off clash that took a frightening turn when Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr was stretchered off.
With top players from both teams sitting out in anticipation of their already-booked first-round play-off series next week, Doug McDermott led the Pacers with 23 points in a victory that officially gave Indiana the Eastern Conference fourth seed to Miami’s No. 5.
With all games being played in the NBA’s bubble in Orlando, Florida, the higher seed and its “home court” advantage was of little import, making the injury to Jones much more of a concern for Miami.
“It just takes the air out of the building,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of seeing Jones go down hard in the third quarter after he crashed into Indiana’s 2.11m, 113kg Georgian centre Goga Bitadze as he tried to round a screen.
Jones was on the floor for several minutes before he was placed on a stretcher with a neck brace, the Heat saying later that MRI and CT scans showed he had a neck strain.
“He got jarred in the shoulder-neck area,” Spoelstra added. “Obviously a little bit more than a stinger.
“Even as competitors, you don’t want it on either side. You just want to be able to have everybody available for the play-offs.”
It was precisely the scenario all the teams wrapping up regular-season action on Friday were trying to avoid, with the first-round play-off series match-ups virtually set.
The only thing left to be decided by this weekend’s play-in series is whether Memphis or Portland will claim the final Western Conference berth and take on the West-leading Los Angeles Lakers.
Spoelstra had held out Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic, Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala.
The Pacers, who were without T.J. Warren, Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner, led much of the game, buoyed by McDermott.
Six Pacers players scored in double figures. That included Malcolm Brogdon, the only regular starter in the line-up, who scored 16.
Champions Toronto, the second seeds in the East, closed out the regular season with a 117-109 victory over the Denver Nuggets.
Rookie Terance Mann drained a go-ahead three-pointer with 2min 30sec left in overtime in a 25-point performance that propelled the Los Angeles Clippers to a 107-103 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Thunder entered their game knowing they will open the play-offs against the Houston Rockets, who fell 134-96 to the Philadelphia 76ers.