The Indiana Pacers put a lot of energy into securing home-court advantage for these Eastern Conference finals. The Heat stripped it from their hands Tuesday night.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade took over the game in the fourth quarter, and Norris Cole and Chris Andersen were defensive stars but it was a pair of key takeaways by the Heat in the final minutes of Game 2 of this best-of-7 series that helped the Heat to an 87-83 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The series is tied 1-1 with the Heat now only needing to win at home to reach the NBA Finals.
“We got back to playing Miami Heat basketball,” James said.
An emphatic reverse dunk by Dwyane Wade with 21.6 seconds left gave the Heat an 86-78 lead, and fans clad in gold shirts began heading for the exits. Wade was the hero on this night, scoring 23 points and carrying the Heat for long stretches as LeBron James struggled to find his rhythm and Chris Bosh struggled to find shots.
It took three quarters for James to assert himself, but he was clutch in closing time. He and Wade combined to score the Heat’s final 20 points of the game. James had 12 points in the final period.
“The fourth quarters are our moments,” Wade said.
The Heat returns to AmericanAirlines Arena for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday. Miami has knocked the Pacers out of the playoffs in the each of the past two seasons.
James finished with 22 points, going 9 of 18 from the field and 1 of 5 from three-point range. Bosh had nine points and was 4-of-9 shooting.
“He wasn’t in rhythm through the first 30 minutes of the game, and he just found a way to break free on a couple of cuts, transitions and that just kind of got him going,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of James’ fourth quarter.
The Heat received an offensive boost from Cole, who scored 11 points off the bench, but it was Cole’s work defensively that had helped secure the victory.
Cole played every minute of the fourth quarter and limited Pacers guard Lance Stephenson to two points in the final period. Stephenson scored 10 points in the third quarter and had 23 points entering the fourth.
“I just tried to make it hard on him and limit his touches,” Cole said.
Said Wade: “We’re very versatile the way [Cole] guards pick-and-rolls.”
With Cole on Stephenson, Wade shifted defensively to Pacers forward Paul George while James covered George Hill.
A recommitment to defense was the real story for the Heat in Game 2. The Pacers, who scored a postseason high 107 points in Game 1, shot just 40 percent from the field in Game 2. Indiana only committed 11 turnovers, but the Pacers’ two giveaways in the fourth quarter were costly.
“We flew around and covered for another,” James said. “Even when we made mistakes we still covered for one another. We allowed them in Game 1 to dictate what our defense did, and that’s not us. They had us on our heels the whole game, and that’s not how we play basketball.”
A pair of free throws by James after a hard foul by David West under the basket put the Heat ahead 76-75 with 4:19 left, and the Heat took advantage of a pair turnovers to take an 82-75 lead with 2:20 remaining. James made an 18-footer after a turnover by Roy Hibbert, and Wade converted a running jumper after forcing Paul George into a giveaway.
The Heat was bolstered in the final period by a strong effort from Chris Andersen, who had six rebounds in the fourth quarter. Miami outrebounded the Pacers 12-6 in the final 12 minutes. Stephenson led the Pacers with 25 points, and George had 14 points after starting the game 1 of 11 from the field. David West scored 10 points.
A three-pointer by George gave the Pacers a 73-69 lead with 7:19 left in the fourth quarter. After a shot-clock violation by the Heat, George and Wade collided in transition with 6:50 remaining. Both players were slow in getting up, and Wade limped off the court favoring his leg. George was helped off the court after the back of his head slammed into Wade’s knee.
Both players returned following a timeout, and a three-pointer by James trimmed Indiana’s lead to a point with 6:11 to play.
A three-pointer by George Hill with 8:44 left gave the Pacers a 70-67 lead, but Wade answered with a fadeaway jumper. Wade was 10 of 16 from the field and had five rebounds and five assists. Hill had 13 points for Indiana.
Stephenson took over the game for the Pacers midway through the third quarter. He scored 10 points in the period, and his three-pointer with 2:57 left in the quarter gave the Pacers a 60-54 lead and capped a 12-point swing. Stephenson had 23 points entering the fourth quarter.
Back-to-back three-pointers by Bosh and Cole cut the Pacers’ lead to 63-62 with 1:08 left in the third quarter. The run helped trim a seven-point deficit in under a minute.
The Heat led 41-37 at halftime after holding the Pacers to 33.3 percent shooting. George went 1 of 11 from the field in the first half, and West contributed four points. Stephenson carried the Pacers with 13 points entering the third quarter.
Udonis Haslem started for Shane Battier, and the move helped the Heat hold the Pacers to 21 points in the first quarter.