When Miami got into trouble, the All-Star duo bailed out the Heat. Again.
James scored the first six points in a decisive 12-2 run, and combined with Wade for Miami’s final 20 points in an 87-83 victory over the Indiana Pacers that left the Eastern Conference final tied at a game apiece.
“That’s why they’re the hundred million dollar guys,” teammate Norris Cole said. “They’re unstoppable. They make the game easy for everyone else when they’re in attack mode.”
That’s exactly how the money guys played during the final 12 minutes.
Wade, who had 13 points in the Heat’s 41-point first half, scored his final 10 in the fourth. James, who finished with 22 points, had 12 in the fourth. Together they helped Miami avoid falling into a 2-0 deficit for the first time since the first round of the 2010 playoffs.
Lance Stephenson tied his playoff career high with 25 points for the Pacers. Paul George scored 14.
Now the series shifts back to Miami for Game 3 on Saturday and Game 4 on Monday.
This one had a different feel compared to a couple of Miami’s important games in the 2013 postseason.
A year ago in Game 7 at Miami, the Heat’s money players overwhelmed Indiana 99-76. Then, after losing Game 1 in the finals to San Antonio, James, Wade and Chris Bosh helped Miami storm back for a 19-point win.
On Tuesday, the Pacers were in a strong position midway through the fourth before James and Wade helped Miami seize the home-court advantage Indiana so desperately wanted for this series.
Miami has won 11 straight games following a playoff loss.
“It’s not going to be pretty. Not in the Eastern Conference,” James said. “It’s never pretty basketball in the Eastern Conference. It’s about who can sustain runs. You know, who can get defensive stops? Who can not turn the ball over and who can get great shots? I think we did that in the fourth.”
At times, the rough-and-tumble night took on the aura of a football game, especially late.
When George and Wade collided chasing a loose ball, both came up grimacing. Wade held his left knee. George also grabbed at his knee though he said afterward he had blurred vision and may have blacked out. Coach Frank Vogel would not confirm George’s description.
Another time, James crashed hard to the floor when David West was called for a flagrant one foul in the fourth quarter, which was changed to a common foul following a replay review. There were hard picks, tight defense and James and Wade back in their old groove.
The Pacers expected all of it in this title bout. They just couldn’t finish it off.
“We were winning the whole night,” guard George Hill said. “We controlled the whole game until the last couple minutes.”
But two days after allowing the Pacers to score 107 points, Indiana’s highest total of the postseason, Miami held Indiana to nine points over a 10-minute stretch in the first half and closed it out with by allowing just 10 points over the final 7:19.
“Today it was just about how bad we wanted it,” Wade said. “It wasn’t about Xs and Os. It wasn’t a perfect game by no stretch of the imagination. We kept digging down deep, and we got back to Miami Heat basketball.”
Even the Heat acknowledged they were in trouble Tuesday after Indiana used a 10-2 third-quarter run to retake a 47-45 lead, and then extended the margin to 63-56 with 2:07 left in the third quarter.
James closed out the quarter by finding Bosh and Cole for open 3-pointers to make it 63-62.
George hit a 29-footer to make it 73-69 with 7:19 left. But James and Wade stepped up again.
James hit a 3 to make it a one-point game, and after Roy Hibbert made a 6-foot hook shot, James scored six straight to start the decisive 12-2 run that sealed the win.
“We have no idea we’re doing that until after the game,” James said. “We’re just going to make the right play for our team. Tonight was one of those nights.”