For more than a month, the Heat pieced together impressive victories in the postseason but never really played to its full potential.
On Sunday night in Indianapolis, that all changed.
Faced with its first true test of the postseason, the Heat blasted the Pacers 114-96 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Miami now leads the best-of-7 series 2-1 and has now won three consecutive postseason games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse dating back to the 2012 playoffs.
“It was a better team effort,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who added that his team was “more focused to getting to our identity … and not letting [Indiana] off the hook.”
The Heat dominated Indiana so thoroughly that it was almost like the Heat decided Sunday to finally start taking the playoffs seriously. Proof of extreme focus and determination was everywhere:
• Udonis Haslem set a personal high for field goals made in postseason game (eight). His baseline jumper was on the mark from the beginning of the game. He finished with 17 points and seven rebounds. It was Haslem’s most points in a game since injuring his foot in 2011.
“He was locked in from the beginning,” Dwyane Wade said of his co-captain.
Haslem delivered a passionate speech to the Heat before the game, which Wade said helped prepare the team for the hostile road atmosphere.
“He can’t be defined by numbers,” Spoelstra said. “He is defined by winning plays and toughness that most players do not have.”
Said James: “He’s the heartbeat of this team.”• The Heat’s five starters each scored in double figures for the first time this postseason (and just the second time dating to the beginning of the season).
• After struggling with turnovers in the first two games of this series, the Heat committed just five in Game 3, which set a franchise record for fewest turnovers in a playoff game. Wade had two turnovers and Haslem, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis each had one. And that was it.
“That’s big time, especially on the road,” James said.
• The Heat’s effort from the free-throw line was embarrassing in the first two games of the series. On Sunday, the team went 24 of 28 from the line.
James led the Heat with 22 points, scoring 18 in the first half to go along with four rebounds and three assists. He went to his post game in first half and couldn’t be stopped.
Wade had 18 points and eight assists in arguably his best game of the playoffs. His driving dunk through the teeth of the Pacers’ defense with 2:46 left in the third quarter gave the Heat an 87-72 lead and signaled the healthiest he has felt in more than two months. Miami poured it on from there.
A three-pointer by Allen with 9:34 left in the game gave the Heat a 21-point lead. Allen was 0 of 11 from the field in games played in Indiana this season before he knocked down a three-pointer with 17.8 seconds left in the half. The shot tied the Heat’s all-time playoff record for points in a half.
James then broke the mark with a running jump shot with 1.3 seconds left. The Heat led 70-56 at the break after shooting 62.8 percent in the first half.
“If you’re not perfect guarding them, they’ll make you pay,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.
Roy Hibbert led the Pacers with 20 points and 17 rebounds and Indiana outrebounded the Heat 45-36. That statistic is deceiving, though. The Heat shot 54.5 percent from the field. David West had 21 points and 10 rebounds for Indiana.
The first quarter of Game 3 offered the most exciting start to a game in the series. The Heat led 34-30 with Chris Bosh leading Miami with 10 points. Haslem was 4 of 4 from the field with eight points and the Heat shot 65 percent overall (13 of 20). The Pacers shot 55.6 percent in the first quarter but couldn’t keep pace.
“[Haslem] was hitting a lot of shots that he normally wasn’t hitting and he was letting me hear it,” Hibbert said. “He really was the guy that really pushed them, the catalyst for him.”
James led the all scorers with 18 points in the first half after concentrating his effort in the post. Paul George simply could not guard James on the low block and Pacers coach Frank Vogel was forced to use a double-team, which opened up Miami’s half-court offense. Both Haslem and Bosh flourished, going 11 of 16 from the field in the first half.
“I just tried to anchor myself down on the block and go to work, and I was able to do that,” James said.
The mismatch opened up Miami’s half-court offense. Both Haslem and Bosh flourished, going 11 of 16 from the field in the first half. Bosh finished with 15 points, going 2 of 3 from three-point range.