As great as the Pacers played Saturday, it was a bizarre 94-foot sprint down the court by LeBron James that did in the Heat.
James lost his cool in the fourth quarter after a questionable call under the basket and took off like Usain Bolt, sprinting the entire length of the floor in an outlandish protest. James received a technical foul for his antics, and then Heat assistant coach David Fizdale was hit with a technical foul for arguing with officials.
In an instant, a close game was a blowout and a series was tied, setting up an epic Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Monday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Pacers defeated the Heat 91-77 on Saturday in Game 6 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Monday will be the second year in a row for Miami to host a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
“It all builds up to this,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s an incredible opportunity as a professional athlete, and even though we lost this game it’s something we can look forward to. … Game 7s are a treasure. They’re the ones you remember 20 years from now.”
Conceding defeat after a three-pointer by Paul George put the Pacers up by 15 points with 1:22 to play, James checked out and walked off the court with more than a minute to play. It was the second time in a row in Indianapolis that James watched the final minutes of a loss from the bench. He fouled out of Game 4.
“We don’t want the focus to be on officiating,” Spoelstra said afterwards, indicating the subtlest of criticism for the referees. “We just want the focus to be on the players and the game.”
On his 94-foot sprint after being called for an offensive foul, James said he “ran down the court to keep from getting kicked out,” and added, “I thought it was a pretty bad call. I have no idea why that was called an offensive foul.”
James finished with 29 points, going 10 of 21 from the field, but the Heat got next to nothing from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who combined to score 15 points. Bosh had five points, going 1 of 8 from the field. Ironically for a center, his only make was a three-pointer. Bosh has scored 19 points total in his past three games.
“I believe in my teammates,” James said. “They’re struggling right now, but we’ve got another chance on Monday.”
George, the Pacers’ budding superstar, matched James in nearly every statistical category. James had seven rebounds, six assists and two steals to go along with his 29 points. George had 28 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals.
“He’s just one of the most complete players in the game, and he exhibited his will [Saturday night],” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.
The game turned in the third quarter, with Indiana outscoring Miami 29-15. For the Heat, the quarter was a dreadful affront to playoff basketball. Indiana outscored Miami by 14 points but, in reality, the first 12 minutes of the second half was actually much worse for the visiting team. Consider:
• The Pacers outscored Miami 20-5 in the first 7 1/2 minutes of the period.
• James had one field goal.
• Indiana shot 70.6 percent.
“All across the board, they just flat out beat us,” Spoelstra said. “They outclassed us that quarter.”
The Pacers’ 12-point run midway through the quarter included several bungled plays by the Heat, but none were more embarrassing than a pair of missed layups by Wade and Mario Chalmers, which happened on back-to-back possessions.
After Chalmers’ miss, the Pacers ran the floor and finished with a dunk by Hibbert to give Indiana a 53-42 lead.
Indiana led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter.
“It was total domination by the Pacers in the third,” James said. “We missed a lot of easy shots.”
Chalmers had 10 points. He began the game 2 of 2 from three-point range but didn’t contribute much after the first quarter. Norris Cole had nine points to lead the Heat’s reserves. Ray Allen had six points, going 2 of 8 from the field and 1 of 4 from three-point range.
Mike Miller made a case for more playing time with an excellent effort in the fourth quarter. Spoelstra called Miller’s number to begin the period, and his back-to-back three-pointers cut the Pacers’ lead to 70-64 with 8:12 left in the period.
A steal by Miller led to a fast-break layup for James, which put the Heat within four points of the Pacers. But the Heat would come no closer to ending the series in six games. On the next possession, a three-pointer by George gave Indiana a 75-68 lead.
“With the defending champs making their run, that was a big shot by Paul,” Vogel said.
The Heat was 10 of 18 from three-point range, losing for the first time this season when making at least 10 three-pointers. Miami was 31-0 during the regular season when making double-digit three-pointers.