The difference between the Heat and the Pacers on Saturday night were in the stars.
Miami got the performances needed from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Indiana, well, didn’t get the same from Paul George and Lance Stephenson.
The Heat got close to 50 combined points from James and Wade as it took a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference finals with a 99-87 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“This series is going to be hard to get good, open looks,’’ coach Erik Spoelstra said, “so we need our shooters to be aggressive.’’
Indiana, which has lost two in a row to the Heat, watched its 15-point second-quarter lead dissipate thanks in part to Miami’s defensive pressure. “That activates our energy,’’ Spoelstra said of the Heat’s defense.
A lot of that pressure came from James (26 points) and Wade (23) — with it directed at Stephenson and George.
“Defense is where we make our mark,’’ James said. “That’s what we have to continue doing going into Game 4.’’
George, coming off a concussion suffered last Tuesday in Game 2, was in foul trouble and only scored six points in 20:56 through the first three quarters. George would get things going in the fourth.
Stephenson spent big portions of the night jawing with James but didn’t deliver much as he was held to 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting.
The Pacers were outscored by 10 when George was on the floor Saturday and minus-9 for Stephenson.
On the flip side, James (plus-24) and Wade (plus-9) had strong offensive performances as well, with Wade giving the Heat a 10-point lead early in the fourth by hitting not one but two three-pointers.
James and Wade combined for 40 of Miami’s 71 points heading into the fourth. George and Stephenson, conversely, had 16 of Indiana’s 64.
“This is still very early in the series,’’ Indiana coach Frank Vogel said.
Wade’s first three-pointer — he only connected on two this postseason coming into Saturday’s game — came in the waning seconds of the third quarter. His second came moments later to open up the fourth.
George followed up on Wade’s big three-point shot by going on an offensive tear. George connected on a three-pointer of his own before driving in and connecting on a lay-up as he drew a foul on Ray Allen.
George then drew a foul on Wade and hit all three foul shots — Chris Bosh had been hit with a technical foul — to bring the Pacers back within two.
Indiana wouldn’t get that close again.
“That’s the competition. This is the playoffs,’’ Spoelstra said of Indiana’s brief comeback in the fourth. “That’s a good basketball team down there. They’re going to keep coming at you and you have to figure out how to make more plays than they do.’’
Miami soon opened things up, and led by 11 with 4:58 left when Norris Cole stripped George as he drove the lane. The Heat worked the ball back up court with Ray Allen hitting another three-pointer to give the Heat its biggest lead — to that point — of the night.
George spent the past few days in the NBA’s concussion program but was cleared to play on Friday after missing a few days of practice.
On Saturday, George participated in shootaround and declared himself good to go.
Before the game, Vogel said the team would keep an eye on George as “his legs got more of a workout” as he didn’t practice.
By taking time off with the four fouls, perhaps, George was able to rest. George scored 11 of his 17 in the fourth.