This was Dwyane Wade’s very best — his Ninth Symphony, his Ulysses, his roundhouse, double-legged dropkick from the top rope.
In a rough-and-tumble second-round series that featured blood and flagrant fouls, cheap shots and suspensions, Wade delivered the final blow Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
He scored 41 points in the decisive game of the series, leading the Heat into the Eastern Conference finals with a 105-93 victory against the Pacers.
Although the series was peppered with hard fouls and trash talk throughout, there was none of that in the final game. There was just a whole lot of Wade doing things that reminded all that watched of the 2006 NBA Finals and delivering a performance that will live forever.
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LeBron James, who smartly deferred to Wade on a night that Wade could hardly miss, called his teammate “spectacular from the beginning to the end.” James was absolutely right about that. Wade’s 41 points came on 17 of 25 shooting. He scored 20 points in the second quarter alone, tying a Heat postseason franchise record, and also had 10 rebounds.
“All I did was continue to play basketball the way I always have,” Wade said. “Sometimes you struggle. So, I understand when it comes to offense it doesn’t always go in.”
Wade, of course, struggled mightily in Game 3, going scoreless in the first half and finishing with just five points. He bounced back from that game with 30 points in Game 4 but saved the best for the Heat’s close-out game.
James wasn’t bad either, finishing with 28 points on 12 of 23 from the field to go along with seven assists and six rebounds. The reigning MVP, James was voted to his fifth All-NBA First Team before Thursday’s game.
“These guys played at such a high level that I don’t know if anyone can beat them,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.
Once seemingly on the brink of melting down in this series, the Heat finished off the Pacers with three consecutive victories, including two that came here in Indiana in front of a rowdy fans.
Those fans, clad in mustard-yellow “Gold Swagger” shirts, were frothing at the mouth at the beginning of Game 6. By the end, they could only clap in appreciation for their gritty team.
The Heat now awaits the winner of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Celtics and 76ers. Regardless of the outcome, the Eastern Conference finals will begin on Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Heat won Game 6 despite losing the rebounding battle 37-26. It was the first time this series a team won despite being out-rebounded.
With Udonis Haslem watching the game from an Indianapolis hotel room due to his suspension, the Heat’s sharpshooters did just enough to provide support for Wade and James.
Mario Chalmers finished with 15 points, shooting 3 of 4 from three-point range. Mike Miller, barely walking at this point, gutted out his best performance of the postseason. He was 4 of 6 from three-point range for 12 points.
“Mike Miller, he might be the toughest guy on this team to go through what he does physically,” Wade said. “Tonight he hit some big shots for us.”
The Heat led by 10 points entering the fourth quarter after a clutch three-pointer by Chalmers but the Pacers cut Miami’s advantage to five points with eight minutes to play. That’s when Joel Anthony delivered possibly the greatest offensive play of his career.
Fouled by Danny Granger in the act of shooting, Anthony delivered a tough basket inside and converted the and-one free throw to give the Heat an 86-78 lead. The play halted a 9-2 run the Pacers. Anthony finished with five points, three rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 35 minutes.
The Pacers’ final push came with a basket from David West with 3:45 left in the game. It cut the Heat’s lead to eight points but James responded with six points in a row to close out the game.
West led the Pacers 24 points on 10 of 16 shooting. George Hill had 18 points and Granger added 15. The Pacers shot 48.6 percent — a respectable number for this defensive-conscious series — but the Heat was 41 of 76 from the field (53.9 percent).
“That’s really the epitome of what a 2-3 match up should be in the playoffs,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.