At the famous racetrack some 10 miles west of the basketball arena here, the Indianapolis 500 had barely ended Sunday when more than 200,000 race fans got their priorities straight. Spontaneously a mammoth chant of “Beat the Heat!” broke out, spilling all across this city in a hungry, angry shout and erupting anew that night as the Pacers hosted Miami.
The Heat’s response to all of that venom and noise?
It could not have been more emphatic short of the NBA’s reigning kings wearing their gaudy championship rings during the game and using them as brass knuckles.
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Your Heat just said, “Not yet. Sit down. We’re not done.”
The visitors in the black jerseys and metaphorical black hats responded Sunday to all that wanted to crush them.
The champs had an answer — for everything.
For that chant and for the Pacers who inspired it.
For the doubts that had begun to seep in.
For the critics laying dormant but poised to pounce.
For the concerns that LeBron James was getting too little help.
For the very notion, however premature, that a repeat championship seemed to be running away from the Heat.
Answered — all of it.
Of course, answers always are temporary in a seven-game series, capable of being largely erased by the next result.
Right now, though, Miami is back in charge with this 114-96 rout and a 2-1 lead in Eastern Conference finals staying here for Game 4 on Tuesday night.
All at once, the soundtrack of this series went from that “Beat the Heat!” chant to the buzzing quiet of a hoarse crowd slumping from its after the first postseason home loss following six home wins in a row.
That control was wrested from Indiana because LeBron, all but a one-man show in Games 1 and 2, had help Sunday. Lots of it, and from almost everywhere.
MIA had come to mean Missing In Action for too many recently underperforming Heat players, but not Sunday.
Who would help LeBron?
Udonis Haslem stood up tallest. The team’s unlikeliest offensive contributor had scored three points, total, in the first two games but scored 17 Sunday night on sublime 8-for-9 shooting.
“I was cutting to the basket [the first two games] and getting swallowed up by their size at the rim” Haslem said. “So tonight I spotted up in the corner and I knew I’d get some shots.”
“Our heartbeat,” James called Haslem.
“He’s played his biggest in the biggest moments,” added coach Erik Spoelstra of U.D. “When you need him, when there’s adversity…”
Dwyane Wade, old friend, he raised his hand, too — and what tonic that was for worried Heat fans. Operating on a balky, bruised right knee, Wade scored 18 points and likely would have finally ended his streak of eight consecutive games without scoring 20 had the rout not allowed the starters to rest late.
Chris “Birdman” Andersen? He stood up yet again, with a clutch nine points off the bench on 4-for-4 shooting. Bird is now 35 for 41 from the field in this postseason, a ridiculous, surreal, record-setting pace. Other than LeBron, Tattoo Man has been Miami’s playoffs MVP thus far.
LeBron did not score a single point in the third quarter Sunday, on 0-for-4 shooting, and yet Miami grew its lead, so great was the all-round contribution on a night when all five starters scored in double figures.
James would end with a team-leading 22, many of them in the paint as he aggressively was deployed in the low post. Few players assert themselves more than LeBron on a mission..
Chris Bosh hit big shots early, Mario Chalmers was efficient, Ray Allen hit two threes. So, finally, did Shane Battier.
James had been carrying his team, but the burden lifted for a night. Indiana’s George Hill has said after Game 2 that the only person scarier than LeBron was God.
Well, Sunday, the King’s disciples decided to show, and none bigger than the old veteran, Haslem.
“He was the catalyst,” said Pacers center Roy Hibbert.
Miami shot 55 percent, hit 86 percent on free throws and held Indiana to less than 40 percent shooting. The Heat also set a franchise playoff record with only five turnovers. LeBron, who had two late costly turnovers the other night, had zero Sunday. This was about as close to a perfect game as you get in the NBA playoffs on the road.
And the only people surprised by any of this should have been those loud Pacers fans so convinced that this series, and maybe the power shift in the East, had somehow and suddenly pivoted to them based on one result.
You were still wishing others Happy New Year when Miami last lost consecutive games, back in early January. And you thought it would happen now, with so much at stake?
This Heat team has proved itself a particular force when backed up, when doubted and pushed. A year ago three straight playoff series found Miami defeated and doubted, and then not losing again in any of those three series..
So it was that Bosh’s reaction to the Game 2 loss had been, “I think this is what we need right now”
What they needed, they got.
Before this game, while being stretched by a team trainer, LeBron happened to have been listening to (and joining in on) a rap song called, We Must Be Heard.”
And, oh my, but the Heat were.