MIAMI – For so much of the night, just about everything was going wrong for the Miami Heat. They were missing every 3-pointer, arguing plenty of calls, even screaming at one another.
Then one quick burst changed everything.
Dwyane Wade scored 32 points, LeBron James added 24 on a sore left ankle, and Chris Bosh and Ray Allen connected on huge 3-pointers within a 31-second span down the stretch. It all added up to the Heat erasing a 15-point deficit in the final 18 minutes to beat the rival Indiana Pacers 97-94 on Wednesday.
It shows were a team thats been there before, Wade said. No matter what the score is we always feel we have an opportunity to win the game.
So even when Indiana led 68-53 midway through third quarter, hope remained.
And even when James and Mario Chalmers were getting in a heated exchange during one particularly bleak stretch – James said afterward that he was wrong, and Chalmers said the matter was forgotten – the Heat didnt fall apart.
It was a good win, James said. Good, good, quality win against a very good team on our home floor. We had to overcome a lot.
Paul George scored 25 points for Indiana but missed a 3-pointer that would have tied it with 4 seconds left, and insisted afterward that he was fouled by James on the play.
I went into my shot, got pushed in the back, I thought it was a foul, nothing was called, and we lost the game, George said. Aside of that we still should have taken care of business.
David West had 23 points and Lance Stephenson added 13 for the Pacers, who have dropped two straight and saw their lead over Miami in the Eastern Conference trimmed to one game. Both teams have won against the other on their home floor this season, and Miami topped Indiana at home in Game 7 of the East finals a year ago.
Its December, Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. I think you have two great teams going at it. Its going to be a fun series all season, the regular-season matchups, and hopefully we will both be able to reach a point in the playoffs where we can meet again.
Miami got the 15-point deficit down to five by the end of the third quarter, and was still down 92-85 when West scored with 3:21 remaining.
Then, for the first time all night, the Heat put together a real run.
The Heat scored the next 10 points – Boshs 3-pointer, his first in 15 attempts, tied it at 92. And after George missed in the lane at the other end, James brought the ball the other way and found Allen for a 3-pointer that put the Heat ahead for the first time since the score was 14-13.
They didnt trail again.
I was encouraged by our ability to stay focused and show some resolve in the second half, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. It wasnt necessarily pretty, but you have to make enough plays ... and a lot of times against this opponent it has to be like that, where its not smooth and you have to make enough plays to just give yourself a chance in the end.
The Pacers had a chance at the lead late, but it went awry when George Hill turned the ball over on a pass with 14 seconds left. Allen made two free throws with 10.3 seconds remaining to put Miami up by three, and that capped the scoring.
Pacers center Roy Hibbert got his fourth foul early in the third, and Vogel opted to leave him in the game. The gamble appeared to backfire 46 seconds later when Hibbert picked up his fifth with 8:34 remaining in the quarter.
Hibbert went to the bench – but the Pacers didnt miss a beat.
George made three free throws after getting hit beyond the arc by Chalmers to put Indiana up 66-51 midway through the third, and the Pacers lead was still 14 with 4:17 left in the quarter.
They stole the game from us, West said.
Even though the teams wont see each other again until March, and with the playoffs still 50-something games away, there was clearly a little more meaning to this one.
James was questionable because of a bad ankle, the one he twisted in Mondays win over Utah.
Vogel was questionable because of bad spaghetti – at least, he thinks thats what caused a quick bout with illness that set in after he dined Tuesday night.
By game time, both pronounced themselves ready.