It all seemed frighteningly familiar.
The Heat survived the Indiana Pacers en route to its 2012 championship, and the opening game of this Eastern Conference finals series had exactly the same feel Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. In other words, be prepared for nail-chewing drama on the hardwood for the rest of this series.
The Heat defeated the Pacers 103-102 in overtime to take a 1-0 series lead. Insane doesn’t even begin to describe the finish.
LeBron James, who finished with a triple-double, scored the game-winner on a layup at the buzzer after slipping past Paul George for a clear lane to the basket. The play came out of a timeout with 2.2 seconds left.
“Shane [Battier] definitely gave me a great pass and I peeked over my left shoulder and I saw Paul George was a little bit out of place, so I just took off,” James said. “I knew I had enough time to either get to the rim or get one dribble in and then a jumper. I saw him leaning a little bit, a quick second.”
But the ending was so much more than that.
The Heat led 101-99 with less than 10 seconds to play when Dwyane Wade fouled George, the Pacers’ young star, in the act of shooting a three-pointer. George made all three free throws to give Indiana a 102-101 lead. After a timeout, James took the inbounds pass from Battier at midcourt and sidestepped George, who overcommitted on the play. James sprinted to the basket for the points as the buzzer sounded and the arena blew its top.
Battier jumped out of his shoes in celebration, pumping his fists as the Heat’s bench poured onto the court.
“[It went from] no way we should win this game, to no way we should lose this game, to what the hell just happened?” Battier said of the dramatic finish.
A relieved Wade, who had just fouled out, leaped onto the court and ran to James.
“I nearly jumped into his arms,” Wade said.
‘I MADE A LAYUP’
After the winning basket, James calmly removed his mouthpiece, refusing to revel in the moment.
“I made a layup,” James said coolly in his post-game news conference. “It’s not like I made something from half court.”
James’ coach was a little more effusive.
“He’s all everything for us and this is the norm,” Erik Spoelstra said. “This may be what it takes to beat [Indiana].”
James finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. On the final play, Pacers coach Frank Vogel went with a lineup that didn’t include 7-2 center Roy Hibbert. Vogel might spend the next two days second-guessing himself for that strategy.
“It would have been better to have Roy in the game,” Vogel said. “I’ll say we’ll probably have him in next time.”
Said George about his defense of James on the final play: “I slipped up – just slipped up at the end. I pressured him. You want to make LeBron shoot a jumper right there.”
The Heat had three horrible possessions in overtime but still managed to tie the score with 49.7 seconds left after Chris Bosh was fouled in the process of tipping in a missed three-point attempt by Battier. Bosh made the and-one free throw to knot the score at 99-99, then David West missed a jumper on Indiana’s next possession.
James put the Heat ahead with a layup, only to watch George and the Pacers retake the lead with his three free throws, followed by James’ game-winner. George led the Pacers with 27 points, going 10 of 11 from the free-throw line. Wade finished with 19 points and Bosh 17. West had 26 points for Indiana.
BY GEORGE, HE DID IT!
George hit an impossibly dramatic three-pointer from 32 feet with 0.7 seconds left to force overtime after Ray Allen missed 1 of 2 free throws with 17.1 seconds left. The Heat led 91-89 after some late-game heroics by Wade but Allen couldn’t put the game away and George drained his unlikely shot at the end of regulation.
Wade had two important field goals out of timeouts in the final three minutes of regulation. First, he finished an alley-oop from James with 2:31 to play to give Miami an 87-84 lead. Then, with under a minute to play, Wade flashed a vision of his old self to give Miami a 91-89 lead with 42.6 seconds left in regulation.
The Heat’s timing was a touch off for most of the game. James missed a pair of free throws to begin the fourth quarter and then Norris Cole committed Miami’s 16th turnover when he left his feet for a pass without really knowing where to throw the ball.
The Heat had 21 turnovers overall and was only 16 of 25 from the free-throw line.
Still, despite the off night, the Heat kept the score close with relentless defensive pressure, timely shots, and, of course, the league’s four-time MVP.
James scored or assisted on the Heat’s first nine points of the final period. His assist on a baseline dunk by Chris Andersen gave Miami a 74-73 lead with 8:11 left. Andersen then pushed the precarious lead to three points with a tip-in on the Heat’s next possession.
The put-back basket gave Andersen 12 points on six shots but he wasn’t done. He rejected a dunk attempt by Lance Stephenson with 5:52 left and then sprinted the full length of the court for a finger roll in transition to put Miami ahead 80-77. Andersen set a career postseason high for points and field goals and set a Heat franchise postseason record for most field goals in a game without a miss. Alonzo Mourning held the old record (six).
“Without his effort we don’t win this game,” James said of Andersen.
SLOPPY FIRST HALF
It was a sloppy but entertaining first half, with the Heat committing 13 turnovers and the Pacers giving away 12 possessions. Entering Game 1, the Heat was averaging just 14.8 turnovers per game in the playoffs. Shooting was a problem as well. Miami was 2 of 7 from three-point range and 3 of 6 from the free-throw line in the first half.
While most of the first half seemed like a replay of the Heat’s poor start against Chicago in the second round, there were bright spots. Udonis Haslem delivered a key sequence with the Heat trailing 39-32. His baseline dunk cut the Pacers’ lead to five with 2:37 left in the second period. Seconds later, Haslem absorbed an offensive charge by West, which gave the Pacers’ dominant power forward three fouls.
Removing West from the game due to foul trouble was pretty much the only way the Heat’s defenders could stop him. West had 18 of Indiana’s 42 points in the first half. He was 8 of 11 from the field and powered through every post player the Heat threw his way.
And, of course, there were the first signs of what will certainly be a physical series. Andersen received a technical foul in the second quarter for instigating an altercation with Tyler Hansbrough.