Dwyane Wade called it a wash, Paul George called it a foul, and Mario Chalmers called out LeBron James.
The second game of the season between the Heat and Pacers had all the elements of a classic and, after all the shouting had ended, two things emerged clear and true: home-court advantage matters greatly when these teams play each other and, by extension of that reality, these regular-season matchups might as well be considered the preliminary rounds of an extended playoff series.
“They beat us on their home floor, and we beat them on our own floor, so that’s a wash,” Wade said after the game.
Earlier, in the postgame locker room, Wade said the victory for the Heat was not a statement game. That assessment wasn’t meant to trivialize Wednesday’s game, but maybe to give this rivalry the proper perspective it deserves. There are no more statements to be made. The time for pronouncements has passed. The Heat is the champion, but the Pacers are just as good.
Put a different way, if this heavyweight bout between these equally matched yet oppositely designed teams goes the full 11 rounds — that’s four regular-season games and a maximum of seven games in, presumably, the Eastern Conference finals — the series and the East championship might just come down to who’s playing at home in the final game.
On Wednesday, it came down to the final play, and George, the Pacers’ young and emerging superstar, had plenty to say after missing a three-pointer at the end to tie the score. George had an open look but was bumped from behind by James. The contact appeared to throw off George’s balance, and he missed the potential game-tying shot badly.
After the miss, George spun his arms in disgust, turned to the game’s lead official, Joey Crawford, and screamed, “That’s [expletive].”
“I thought it was a foul,” George said after the game. “Nothing was called. We lost the game.”
The perception is that non-calls like the one that went in James’ favor occur more frequently for the home team. That’s one reason of many why home-court advantage could ultimately determine who represents the East in the NBA Finals. Another is momentum generated by a home crowd, and AmericanAirlines Arena offered plenty of that in the final minutes Wednesday.
The Heat trailed by eight points with 4 1/2 minutes to play but rallied for the victory behind three-pointers by Chris Bosh and Ray Allen. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time this season the Pacers lost a game after leading in the fourth quarter.
It’s a long season, but with the series between the Heat and Pacers split down the middle and the teams’ records nearly identical with 57 games to go, the pace of the marathon for the No. 1 seed is already increasing.
“I think throughout the regular season that first spot is going to be, it’s going to go back and forth,” Bosh said Tuesday. “We don’t have to worry about anything else, you know.”
The energy generated by the Heat’s first home game against the Pacers since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals likely will linger in AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday when the Heat (19-6) plays the Sacramento Kings (7-17).
The Heat trailed by as many as 15 points in the third quarter against Indiana when frustration started to show in the courtside huddles of the defending champions.
At one point, James had to be restrained by Udonis Haslem from getting in the face of Chalmers, who questioned James during a timeout about a defensive breakdown.
James later apologized, but Chalmers said it was unnecessary. Disagreements and heated exchanges are normal for the Heat in the playoffs. That type of emotion simply had been dormant for a few months.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called it “healthy communication.”
James called it fun.