Pacers dominate Heat to take 2-1 series lead
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers no longer are just a nuisance.
Instead, they’re threatening to topple the balance of power in the Eastern Conference.
On a night LeBron James was merely good and Dwyane Wade anything but for the Heat, the Pacers moved to a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series with a 94-75 victory Thursday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“We definitely feel that we can win this series,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.
With Wade scoreless in the first half of what turned into a five-point outing and James merely mortal in a 22-point performance, the Pacers made it consecutive victories over the Heat, with Game 4 Sunday on the Pacers’ court.
“Sunday is a must win for us, obviously,” James said.
For Indiana, contributions from a variety of players left the Heat searching for answers and ultimately capitulating, with George Hill scoring 20, Roy Hibbert 19, Danny Granger 27 and David West 14.
Hibbert also had 18 rebounds and five blocked shots.
“One of the best games I’ve ever seen him play,” Vogel said.
Hibbert said he was taking advantage of the absence of injured Heat power forward Chris Bosh.
“Until they get him back,” Hibbert said, “I’m going to keep doing the same thing.”
Wade missed his first six shots and closed 2 of 13 from the field.
“Obviously I’ll go back to the film and look at it,” Wade said. “I missed some shots early, then missed some shots later. I’ve got to be a little more aggressive. Give them some credit. They did a good job when I got to the basket.”
Even with point guard Mario Chalmers scoring a career playoff-high 25 points, the Heat simply lacked enough to stay competitive, with Bosh missing a second consecutive game with a lower-abdominal strain that likely will sideline him at least for the balance of this series.
“We’re not scoring the ball,” James said. “This is the result of us not making as much shots as we’re accustomed to make.”
The Pacers seized control in the third quarter with a 17-3 run to push to a 64-50 lead.
With Wade off his game, the Heat unable to make a 3-point shot, and James reduced to trying to win it on his own, the Pacers went from a 47-47 tie early in the third to a 69-55 lead entering the fourth.
“We’re not going to win a ballgame with Chris Bosh out and me scoring five points obviously,” Wade said. “So I take a lot of onus on that. So there’s frustration in that.”
While West and Granger were called for technical fouls in the third period, that aggression only seemed to fuel Indiana, with the Heat reduced to a seemingly nasty sideline moment between coach Erik Spoelstra and Wade.
“That was during a very emotional part of the game, when we were getting our butt kicked,” said Spoelstra, who declined to directly answer whether Wade was injured. “That type of fire, that’s good. That’s the least of our concerns.”
Despite Wade’s first scoreless first half in 95 playoff appearances, the Heat were able to go into the intermission tied 43-43. Wade missed all five of his first-half shot.
It was a first half typical of the scoring swings that had been evident in the opening two games of this series.
James led the Heat with 16 first-half points, with center Hibbert leading the Pacers with 12 over the opening two periods.
As ugly as it was at the end of the first quarter for the Pacers, it was equally encouraging at the start of the second, when they used a 9-2 run to move within 28-26, with the teams staying close from there for the balance of the half.
Featuring a new starting lineup, the Heat opened the first quarter ice cold and finished sizzling, using a period-closing 24-6 run to take a 26-17 lead into the second period.
In front of a passionate home crowd, the Pacers raced to an 11-2 lead, with the Heat opening 1 of 8 from the field, including an 0-for-3 start by Wade.
But with Chalmers hitting all four of his first-quarter shots and James scoring 11 points in the opening 12 minutes, the Heat were able to move to their nine-point edge entering the second quarter, hitting 10 consecutive shots at one stage.
Even with their hot start, the Pacers closed the first quarter 7 of 24 from the floor, led by the eight first-period points of Hibbert.
“I’ve seen it coming from the first day of training camp,” Vogel said of his team’s growth. “This is who we’ve been all year. We’re a balanced team . . . not two guys trying to create all the time.”
NOTES: With Bosh out indefinitely, Spoelstra shook up his lineup, replacing Udonis Haslem at power forward with Shane Battier, and replacing Ronny Turiaf at center with Dexter Pittman. It was the first time this season the Heat featured a starting lineup of Pittman, Battier, James, Wade and Chalmers. “Our team is different,” Spoelstra said. “Without Chris, everything is out on the table.” . . . Vogel, on his team’s measured offensive approach, “If you over-pursue a mismatch, it can stagnate your offense.” . . . James downplayed Vogel’s notion of needing an “edge” to win in this series. “It’s the postseason,” he said. “It’s no secret about an edge or not having an edge. It’s the postseason. You have to be ready. You have to approach every possession like it’s the last.” . . . The Heat switched to their alternate red road uniforms, after losing their previous road game in their traditional black road uniforms, Game 4 of the first round in New York . . . The Pacers countered the Heat’s home “white out” by distributing “Gold swagger” T-shirts in that color.