No matter what, the Heat will have to return to Indianapolis. After the way Game 4 on Tuesday played out, winning another game in this town is going to be a tall order.
After stealing back home-court advantage on Sunday, the Heat’s advantage in the Eastern Conference finals took a hit with a 99-92 loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The best-of-7 series is now tied at 2-2. The Heat and Pacers will play Game 5 on Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
LeBron James fouled out with 56 seconds left of a close game and Dwyane Wade was called for traveling in the final minute. Focus and mistake-free basketball was the key to the Heat’s victory in Game 3. In Game 4, Miami seemed to sabotage itself with the game on the line.
Lance Stephenson’s layup rattled around the rim and dropped with 61 seconds to play and James let out a howl of disgust. One possession earlier, James knocked down a three-pointer to cut the Pacers’ lead to 94-92. It ended a 9-0 run by the Indiana, which began with 4:55 left in the game and ended with 90 seconds to play.
Stephenson’s bucket put the Pacers back ahead by four points and James felt the game slipping away.
His frustration boiled over on the offensive end and he picked up his sixth foul with 56 seconds left. Stunned, James walked off the court and leaned against press row near the Heat’s bench before placing both hands over his head in a show of bewilderment.
“That’s how the game goes sometimes,” James said.
James’ night was done but the game wasn’t over. It took a critical mistake by the Heat’s other star, Wade, to call it a night and guarantee a Game 6 on June 1.
Trailing 96-92 with 26.9 seconds left, Wade was called for traveling before a shot attempt. From there, the Pacers iced the game with a pair of free throws by guard George Hill.
James finished with 24 points, six rebounds and five assists. Wade had 16 points and six assists. Ray Allen had 11 points off the bench. The Heat was 8 of 23 from three-point range (34.8 percent) and shot 39 percent overall. Chris Bosh had just seven points and two rebounds on a night in which he injured his knee during the first half and his ankle in the second.
The game’s defining possession began with 1:52 to play when two offensive rebounds by the Pacers allowed Roy Hibbert to score a layup with 1:30 play. He drew a foul in the act of shooting and made his and-one free throw to give Indiana a 94-89 lead.
“They got us there in the fourth,” Heat coach Spoelstra said. “We got what we wanted, a fourth-quarter, 89-86 going down the stretch, and they made bigger plays.”
Said Bosh: “We had them right where we wanted them but every time we would get a stop, especially in the fourth quarter, we didn’t come up with the rebound. They got too many offensive rebounds. It was there for us. We had a chance but didn’t capitalize.”
Stephenson tied the game at 89-89 with an 18-footer and the Pacers took the lead on a layup by Hibbert with 2:42 to play. The final six minutes delivered some of the best moments of the series.
• James’ steal on an inbounds pass from Paul George, which led to a three-point play by Wade on a fast break.
• George’s three-point play against James moments later.
• Allen’s clutch three-pointer at the end of a shot clock to give Miami an 89-86 lead.
And that was simply the preamble—the buildup to the final five minutes of the game.
“It was like, this whole series has been just great play after great play after great play,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.
Mario Chalmers delivered his best game of the postseason, scoring 20 points to go along with three assists but he was ultimately limited by foul trouble. His banked runner with 7:20 to play cut the Pacers’ led to five points. So confident was Chalmers during the final period that James actually apologized to the Heat’s starting point guard for a mistake.
A three-year running gag, James has chastised Chalmers repeatedly for mental errors, but Chalmers was next to flawless in the fourth quarter despite playing with a severely sore shoulder following a questionable screen by David West in Game 2.
A tip-in by Ian Mahinmi and a hook shot by Hibbert gave Indiana an 81-72 lead with 9:17 to play in the game. Meanwhile the Heat managed just four points in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter. A pair of free throws by Chalmers cut Indiana’s lead to seven points with 8:09 to play.
The final minute of the third quarter was a game-changer for the Pacers. Hill, the Pacers guard, was the catalyst, delivering a difficult three-point play with 47.1 seconds left after being fouled in the act of shooting by Allen.
West then absorbed a charge by James with 2.0 seconds left in the period. After a timeout, Stephenson buried an improbable buzzer beater from the corner to give the Pacers a 77-70 lead entering the final period.
Hibbert led the Pacers with 23 points and Stephenson had 20. Hill had 19 points as all five Pacers starters scored in double figures.