INDIANAPOLIS – If things remained constant, then it was expected that Saturday night would be the sixth act of a drama slated to go seven.
The Heat won an emotional Game One, the Pacers countered with a win. The Same scenario happened over the next four games-Miami victory than Indiana counter.
Logic-or at least the pace of the series so far-would dictate that Frank Vogel’s team would hold serve on the homecourt for the eighth time in nine tries in the 2013 NBA Playoffs and force an entertaining Eastern Conference Finals to the brink.
Indeed the Pacers followed the script to perfection using a big third quarter to beat the Heat 91-77 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and push this competitive Eastern Conference Finals series to the limit.
Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals will be played on Monday night at 8:30 P.M. with the winner advancing to the NBA Finals to face San Antonio on Thursday night at the AT&T Center. It will be the first game the Pacers will play since June 2, 2000 where a win would give them a berth in the NBA championship series.
On that night the Pacers beat the Knicks in New York in Game Six to advance to their first and for now only NBA Finals appearance.
Paul George led the Pacers with 28 points while Roy Hibbert had 24 points and 11 rebounds. David West, who was ill for Saturday morning’s shootaround, still played 36 minutes and grabbed a team-high 14 rebounds and scored 11 points. George Hill added 16.
LeBron James led all scorers with 29 points but was the only real offensive threat for the Heat, with Dwayne Wade and Mario Chalmers the only others in double digits (10 each).
Per usual, the first quarter featured a nip-and-tuck trading of the leads between the squads. Neither team had a lead exceed four points and Miami hit that mark late in the quarter on a three by James. Indiana countered before the quarter’s end with a Hibbert lay-up to cut the lead to 23-21 after 12 minutes.
The Pacers made their most significant run of the game to that point in the second quarter when they retook the advantage and put some space between them and the Heat. Hill hit a pair of buckets to spark a quick 10-0 Pacers run that gave them a 31-25 lead as James went to the bench for the first time. Yet Miami was undeterred, going on an 11-2 run without the reigning NBA MVP, using a Ray Allen three-pointer to grab a 36-33 lead.
Yet when James re-entered the game, it was the Pacers who found a second wind late in the quarter scoring six straight points to grab a three-point lead themselves. But Miami again figured out a way to squeak out a lead before the break as two straight buckets-including a James’ breakaway slam-put the Heat up one at the break.
For the first time in the playoffs so far the Pacers looked as if they might be the ones to turn a game into a blowout. The team started the half on a 14-2 run as the Heat struggled shooting 1-for-11 from the floor and when Hibbert hit a lay-up with 5:48 to go in the quarter the Pacers had an 11-point lead.
Another Hibbert lay-up with 26 seconds to go in the quarter gave the Pacers a game-high 17-point lead. James gave the Heat a bit of life with a pair of free throws, then a steal with two seconds to go, drawing the foul and hitting two more free throws. It put a bit of a damper on the third in which the Pacers outscored the Heat 29-15 in taking a 13-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Miami would continue to capitalize on that momentum and got the Pacers lead down to four points on a James layup with just under six minutes to go. But the Heat wouldn’t be able to cut into the lead any further thanks to some clutch shooting and a bit of a Heat meltdown.
George hit a three-pointer following the James lay-up to push the lead back to seven and then West got his own rebound on a miss inside, hitting the putback to extend the lead to nine. Then the Pacers watched as James and Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra were hit with technical fouls after the forward was called for an offensive foul on the drive. Hill would hit the free throws and Hibbert hit the lay-up on the ensuing possession to make it 81-68 Indiana as the Pacers push this competitive series to the brink.