INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana: NBA champions Miami bounced back with a vengeance on Sunday (Monday in Manila), racing to an early lead and rolling to a 114-96 victory over Indiana in game three of the Eastern Conference finals.
The Heat, stung by a game-two defeat on their home floor on Friday, struck back to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The winners will advance to the NBA finals to take on either San Antonio or Memphis for the league crown.
NBA Most Valuable Player LeBron James led the Heat with 22 points. He scored 18 in the first half as Miami, connecting on 63 percent of their shots from the floor in the half, jumped to a 70-56 lead at the break.
The Heat shot 54.5 percent for the game, connecting on 42-of-77 shots in an impressive offensive performance against the league’s best defensive team.
“What we talked about in the locker room was a team win,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We just tried to focus on the task of playing one possession at a time and trying to play those possessions well.
“We had a lot of contributions tonight so it was a good step forward, but we know how competitive this series is.
“We already have to start putting this behind us and start getting ready for the next challenge, the next battle.”
All five Miami starters scored in double figures. Dwyane Wade added 18 and 8 assists and Udonis Haslem, who had scored just three points in the first two games of the series, added 17 and 7 rebounds.
Chris Bosh scored 15 and Mario Chalmers poured in 14 as the Heat remained unbeaten on the road in this post-season and handed the Pacers their first home defeat of this playoff campaign.
The Pacers will try to even the series when they host game four on Tuesday.
“Obviously they’re one of the great teams that this league has seen, the defending champs,” said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. “If you’re not perfect guarding them, they’ll do what they did to us tonight.
“Sometimes when you are perfect with your coverages they still find ways to make baskets,” Vogel added. “We didn’t have a great defensive night. It wasn’t horrible. You have to credit Miami for playing a great basketball game.”
After a game two defeat in which their 15 turnovers included two by James in the final minute, the Heat committed just five turnovers.
Roy Hibbert had 20 points and 17 rebounds for the Pacers. David West notched 21 points and 10 rebounds in the defeat, while Paul George had 13 points on just 3-of-10 shooting to go with eight assists.
Twice in the third quarter Indiana trimmed the deficit to seven points.
But after Hibbert’s three-point play pulled the Pacers within 78-71 with 5:45 remaining in the period, the Heat put together a 9-1 run that included five points from Chalmers and a slam dunk by Wade that stretched Miami’s lead to 87-72.
The Heat took a 91-76 edge into the fourth quarter and led by as many as 21 in the final period.
Spoelstra cautioned, however, that the Heat could not afford to be complacent.
“It doesn’t matter how much you win by,” Spoelstra said. “We have to be focused and get ready for another one.”