The Miami Heat, riding largely on the shoulders of LeBron James’ clutch second-half shooting, are now one game away from their third NBA Finals appearance, defeating the Indiana Pacers, 90-79, Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
James led all scorers with 30 points, to go along with 8 rebounds and 6 assists (including 3-of-7 shooting from behind the three-point arc). But Miami got an additional, if unlikely boost from the inspired play of former Florida Gators star Udonis Haslem, who had 16 points – all of them in the second half – with a string of key field goals in the opening minutes of the third quarter. And some of those buckets, it appeared, were largely uncontested – due to James’ being constantly double-teamed. Indiana had led 44-40 at the break, but Haslem’s 8-for-8 field-goal surge, together with James’ scoring (they combined for 26 points in the third quarter alone) effectively K.O.’d the Pacers, who were outscored in the penultimate quarter, 30-13.
James and Haslem were joined in double-figure scoring by teammates Mario Chalmers (12 points and 6 assists) and Dwyane Wade (10 points). But Miami’s margin would have been even greater had they not continued their poor free throw shooting: they were only 7-of-12 from the line (58%). However, they returned to their stingy ways with turnovers (10) as opposed to the Pacers, who once again were sloppy with the ball (17 turnovers). Miami also allowed only 32 points in the paint – forcing Indiana into an outside game that just couldn’t get clicking. The Heat, for their part, were able to ratchet up the tempo, which favors their quick and highly-athletic style of play.
Indiana continues to get good production from Paul George, who had a double-double with 27 points and 11 rebounds, as well as Roy Hibbert with 22 points and David West with 17 points and eight rebounds. Hibbert and George combined for all of Indiana’s first quarter points, where their lead crested at 7 points. But a key void for Indiana was the poor play of Lance Stephenson, who had only 4 points and fouled out, courtesy of Haslem, with two important minutes remaining in the game.
Miami seemed to get charged up for this home game with some extra-curricular activities bridging the second and third quarters. Early in the second, the Heat’s Chris Andersen and the Pacers’ Tyler Hansbrough each got technical fouls when Andersen hit Hansbrough in two instances (Andersen was also assessed a flagrant-1 foul). And out of the intermission, Chalmers and Haslem got in a shouting match with the Pacers’ David West after Indiana’s George Hill drew an offensive foul the Heat players thought was overly aggressive. This effectively lit Haslem’s fuse, and shortly thereafter went on a tear with his baseline jumpers – flashing a big smile at his opponents each time he hit from the corner.
Haslem’s precision shooting, James’ superior post play and Wade’s pick-and-roll conversions made it a long night for Indiana, who see the remainder of this series as a watershed in their progress as a budding NBA power. Game 6 is Saturday in Indianapolis.