Heat step up late, even Eastern Conference series with Indiana
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Miami Heat have been in worse spots before during this quest for a third consecutive NBA championship, on the precipice of elimination against both the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs.
But the desperation Tuesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse was tangible, amid the possibility of falling behind 0-2 in these best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
Panic, however, never arrived, with the Heat escaping 87-83 against the Indiana Pacers, now headed home tied 1-1, with the next two at AmericanAirlines Arena, starting Saturday night.
"That's what it's about," Heat forward LeBron James said of closing it out with several defensive stands and a tag-team scoring effort with Dwyane Wade. "We were flying around."
No, it wasn't pretty, and, yes, it very much was played at the Pacers' pace. But the Heat stole the homecourt advantage Indiana had so desperately seized during the regular season.
"We're very confident coming down the stretch," Wade said, "because we believe in our defense."
With Wade, James and the Heat defense stepping up, the three-day break now can come with an exhale.
"Even though we won, we're going to break down the film as if we lost," James said. "We got back to playing Miami Heat basketball, we flew around.
"We're not comfortable and we're not satisfied at all."
Wade led the Heat with 23 points, with James adding 22, the two combining to score the Heat's final 20 points. Both of those performances were needed on a night Heat center Chris Bosh was limited to nine, shooting 1 of 4 on 3-pointers.
"Today was just about how bad we wanted it," Wade said. "It wasn't about Xs and Os. And we proved it. We showed it. We kept digging down deep, and eventually the game turned in our favor."
Backup point guard Norris Cole added 11 points off the Heat bench, as a much-needed spark on a night when points came at a premium.
Cole appreciated the way James and Wade dug deepest.
"That's why," he said, "they are the hundred-million-dollar guys."
That doesn't mean Cole didn't provide his own payoff, stepping up with late defense after Pacers guard Lance Stephenson was beating other Heat defenders with his dribble penetration.
"I just rolled with it," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of turning to Cole for defense, the suggestion actually made by James.
For the Heat, the overall performance was desperation when needed.
"There was a better commitment and disposition on the defensive side of the court," Spoelstra said after his team limited the Pacers to 40-percent shooting. "At this point, it's just whatever it takes, however our guys can contribute to help us win."
Stephenson, with a performance that backed up the swagger he brought into the series, led the Pacers with 25 points, shooting 10 of 17, with Paul George scoring 14, David West 10 and Roy Hibbert 12 for Indiana.
But it was a struggle for several of the Pacers, with George 4 of 16, West 5 of 16, Hibbert's 13 rebounds not enough to compensate.
George at one point said he blacked out after taking an unintentional knee to the head from Wade during a late scramble.
"And then," he said, "however much time was remaining, I was just blurry."
He was lucid enough afterward to lament the Pacers' late turnovers.
"You can't do that against them," he said.
The winner of this series plays the winner of the Western Conference finals, which the San Antonio Spurs lead 1-0 against the Oklahoma City Thunder going into Wednesday's Game 2 of that series.
The Heat entered aware of daunting odds, with teams down 0-2 in best-of-seven series losing the series 94 percent of the time. Now that statistic no longer is in play.
The Heat went into Tuesday's game having won 10 games in a row following a postseason loss, dating to the 2012 Eastern Conference finals against the Celtics.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel urged perspective.
"We've just got to respond," he said. "It's not demoralizing.
"You've got to credit Miami for making more plays down the stretch."