INDIANAPOLIS, (Reuters) – Beating the Miami Heat once is difficult enough but taking two playoff games in a row from the defending National Basketball Association champions is mission impossible as the Indiana Pacers found out on Tuesday.
Dormant most of the night, LeBron James sprung to life in the final quarter scoring 12 of his 22 points, while Dwyane Wade dropped 10 of his team high 23 to lift the Heat to a battling 87-83 victory and even the Eastern Conference final at a game apiece.
Imposing their will on the contest, James and Wade combined for 22 points in the final quarter, including Miami’s final 20 points over the last 7:51 of the game.
“That’s what it is about, it isn’t going to be pretty,” said James. “It’s never pretty basketball in the Eastern conference, it’s about who can sustain runs.
“Who can get the defensive stops, who cannot turn the ball over and who can get great shots and I think we did that in the fourth.
“I needed to do something in fourth…I needed to make a few buckets in the fourth quarter and was able to come through for us.
“We’re never satisfied until we close out a series so have a lot of work to do.”
The best-of-seven series now shifts to South Beach for Game Three on Saturday, giving the Pacers plenty of time to ponder a missed opportunity.
After rolling to an impressive win over the Heat in Game One on Sunday, the Pacers finally flashed the form that had been expected from the East’s top seed as Indiana looked ready to seize control of the series.
But the Heat have developed a habit of bouncing back after a playoff loss and continued that trend at a raucous Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
With the victory, the Heat have now gone 40 playoff games without suffering consecutive losses, a run that stretches back to the 2012 East final against the Boston Celtics.
Since James, Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces in Miami, four times the Heat have lost the opening game of a playoff series and each time recovered to win the series.
“It’s not demoralizing, we know they are great, great players (James and Wade),” said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. “They’re a great team. They are the champs.
“That’s what we expect from those guys because they have been there before.
“So we’ve just got to respond.”
The Pacers, who sputtered through the opening two rounds of playoffs needing seven games to eliminate Atlanta and six to see off Washington, were firing on all cylinders in Game One against Miami on Sunday and backed by seething arena and carried that momentum into Tuesday charging to an 18-10 lead.
But there was no panic on the Miami bench as the Heat, making their fourth straight appearance in the East final, patiently chipped away at the Indiana advantage trimming the deficit to a single point at the end of the opening quarter.
The Heat continued their surge into the second taking a 41-37 lead into the intermission, despite a modest six point first half contribution from James.
Indiana threatened to pull away again in the third but could not hold off the Heat as James and Wade took control.
“This is a hotly contested series, two teams that defend, physical and you just have to keep on staying with it,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
“He (James) wasn’t in a rhythm through the first 30 minutes of the game but he found a way to break free…at this point it is just whatever it takes.
“However you can contribute to help us win.”