Indiana took every shot Miami could muster Wednesday night.
Then the Pacers threw a couple of their own punches — and put the two-time defending champs on the mat.
Paul George scored 23 points, Roy Hibbert added 21 and Indiana rallied from a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat the Heat 84-83, taking a three-game lead over Miami in the chase of the Eastern Conference’s top seed.
“They’re the champs, they’re going to bring out the best in us,” said David West, who made a 3-pointer with 50.2 seconds to go. “They bring out the best in anybody. I thought we just had enough fight.”
It was one of those rare grudge matches that actually lived up to the billing.
Before the game, the teams chided one another with dueling comments. Afterward, nobody was ready to make up. And in between, the action got downright nasty.
LeBron James needed a cotton swab in his nose to keep playing in the fourth quarter after getting whacked in the face. Dwyane Wade spent the final minute of the game icing his right hamstring.
Pacers center Roy Hibbert finished the game despite taking an elbow to the face that left him so groggy he didn’t even remember getting hit.
James and George both wound up taking spills into basket supports, and Lance Stephenson was ejected midway through the fourth quarter after picking up his second technical foul for celebrating a basket. The angry Stephenson waved his hand at the ref and after leaving the court, threw a towel and kicked a door. Coach Frank Vogel was not amused, saying he had a stern talk with his budding star guard before he went home.
But it typified a rugged night for Miami (48-22).
“It is what it is, they ref the game, we play it,” James said.
The NBA’s best home team ended a two-game losing streak, took a 2-1 lead in the season series and now has the inside track to home-court advantage with just 10 games to play.
And (52-20) Indiana still managed to do all of that on a night James seemed to be at his best.
The four-time MVP finished with 38 points, eight rebounds, five assists, was 9 of 15 from the field and 14 of 15 from the free throw line.
The problem: James also had six turnovers, Wade had six more turnovers and Miami managed only one basket over the final 3 minutes, 23 seconds. James and Bosh both missed late jumpers that would have given Miami the lead, the last an airball by Bosh from just right of the top of the key as time expired.
“Unfortunately, that was what I diagramed,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It probably wasn’t the best call. It might have been a little too gunslinger on my part. I just wanted an open shot.”
They were so hard to come by Wednesday night that James was even called for a flagrant foul when he drove to the basket and sent the 7-foot-2, 290-pound Hibbert crashing to the ground. When Hibbert got up, he stumbled. Eventually he had to leave the court to change his blood-spattered jersey, but he refused to sit against the Heat.
Hibbert dominated the first half yet again, scoring 17 points.
But when the Heat decided to make things tough on Hibbert in the second half, George and his teammates took advantage.
George spurred the first fourth-quarter run with two monster dunks — one over the hand of a trailing James — to get the Pacers back in the game.
Later, it was Evan Turner, the trade deadline acquisition, who delivered two of Indiana’s biggest baskets of the night. The first came after James’ final turnover, on a breakaway layup. The second came courtesy of Mario Chalmers’ turnover out of bounds. When the middle of the court opened up, Turner bolted through a clear path for an 81-80 lead with 90 seconds to go.
“I know how to get my space, I’ve been doing that forever, you know what I mean?” Turner said, likely adding another spark to a rivalry that needs none. “Some of my moves I’ve been doing since I was a little kid, so I can walk a pretty fine line when it comes to that.”
After Hibbert made 1 of 2 free throws, Turner scored on the layups, West hit the knockout 3 and all Miami got was a 3 from Bosh with 2.9 seconds left.
“They’re a tough team, psychologically against most teams they have the edge,” West said. “They’ve got the best player in the game. Their pedigree, their entire organization, you understand what you’re going to get.”
Indiana has won its first back-to-back division titles since 1998-99 and 1999-2000. … The Heat are now 7-8 in March. … The Pacers and Heat meet again April 11 in Miami.
SOURCE: The Associated Press