For most of the fourth quarter, LeBron James played like a superhero. Then, in the final minute, he handed the game to Indiana with a pair of turnovers.
In a series that’s beginning to shape up just like last year’s drama-filled duel between the Heat and Pacers, Indiana defeated the Heat 97-93 at AmericanAirlines Arena to knot the best-of-7 Eastern Conference at 1-1. The 2012 conference semifinals between the two teams was tied 1-1 before the Pacers took a 2-1 lead in Game 3.
Game 3 is on Sunday at Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse and the Heat will need to address some major flaws in its game between now and then if it wants to avoid another stressful series deficit on the road. Pacers center Roy Hibbert dominated the Heat inside in Game 2, scoring 29 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Indiana shot 50 percent from the field; Miami shot 46.6 percent.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Hibbert said. “We’ve won one game. Of course, a lot of us feel like we should be ahead 2-0.
“We’re young guys, but we know what we’re doing ... They could be the champs, but we’re coming for them.”
Said Heat center Chris Bosh, who struggled to defend Hibbert: “We’re not playing our game. It’s us. It’s all us. We haven’t done what we do.”
Dramatic defensive stops highlighted the final minute of play before Pacer guard George Hill iced the game with a pair free throws in the final 10 seconds. On two consecutive possessions for the Heat, James gave the ball away amid defensive pressure by Pacers forward David West.
“Very disappointed in my judgment and my plays down the stretch, but I’ll make up for them,” James said.
West stole a pass from James with 42.9 seconds left and Indiana ahead 95-93 but Dwyane Wade salvaged the situation when he took the ball back on the opposite end when he forced a 24-second violation.
On the Heat’s next possession, needing a field goal to tie the game, James gave it away to West once again. This time with 8.3 seconds left. James was forced to foul Hill, who coolly knocked down his free throws to give the Pacers a home-court advantage in the series.
“The first one was a little careless on my part and David West got a hand on it and then the second one I saw Ray [Allen] wide open once again and I was careless once again,” James said. “Can’t happen in that situation, especially being down two in a big game at home.”
In the final minute of a tight game, the Heat didn’t attempt a shot until it was all but over — when Bosh missed a three-pointer with 2.6 seconds left and Miami down by two possessions.
James finished with 36 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Third-year star Paul George had 22 points for Indiana. Bosh had 17 points and Wade had 14. The Heat committed 15 turnovers, six less than Game 1, but couldn’t overcome poor shooting from three-point range (31.8 percent) and the free-throw line (18 of 26; 69.2 percent).
Earning recognition from James as the game’s “X factor,” Pacers guard George Hill had 18 points, going 6 of 8 from the field and 2 of 3 from three-point range.
The game, while slow-paced for the first three quarters, featured a host of memorable highlights before taking off in the fourth quarter.
James’ reverse dunk in transition in the second quarter was impressive — and important, considering the Heat’s 13-point deficit in that quarter — but the dunk of the night went to George, who skied over Chris Andersen for a thunderous one-handed dunk in the lane. From there, James and George entered into what seemed like their own personal duel.
James drained a three-pointer to give the Heat a 79-78 lead and George answered with a three-pointer of his own to put the Pacers up 84-81 with 9:26 to play. From there, the game, but in particular James, went into overdrive.
James’ sequence from 8:16 left in the game to 6:11 of was the stuff of legend.
James scored a layup on one end then rejected Hibbert on the other. After a layup by Chalmers to give the Heat an 85-84 lead, James tied up Hibbert under the basket and then out-leaped Hibbert, the Pacers 7-2 center, for the jump ball. Physically drained, James then guarded West in attempt to reduce Indiana’s advantage in the paint.
Bosh drained a three-pointer from the corner — his second of the night — to give Miami an 88-84 lead and let out a primal scream. It did little to intimidate Indiana, though.
Lance Stephenson answered Bosh’s three-pointer with one of his own and Hibbert went to work back inside to give the Pacers an 89-88 lead with 4:46 to play.
James powered his way to the post for a three-point play to retake the lead but the Pacers stayed inside. And why not? The Heat couldn’t stop Hibbert, who tied the game at 91-91 with 3:09 to play.
“We had plenty of chances to close them out in the fourth quarter,” Spoelstra said.
The Heat trailed by as many as 13 points in the second quarter but cut the Pacers’ lead to six at halftime on a buzzer beating three-pointer by Mike Miller. Miller was wide open on the wing after a superbly athletic cross-court pass by James, who finished the first half with 15 points, two rebounds and three assists.
Because it’s Miller, he appeared to pull a muscle in his side in the act of shooting. He did not play in the second half.
Like little-used Miller, Heat center Joel Anthony also appeared in the second quarter in an apparent attempt to slow down Hibbert, the Pacers 7-2 center.