INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana: The Indiana Pacers exploded in the second half en route to a 91-77 victory over Miami on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) to force a deciding seventh game in their NBA Eastern Conference final series.
Paul George led the Pacers with 28 points, Roy Hibbert added 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and Indiana held off the reigning NBA champion Heat in the fourth quarter to knot the series at three games apiece.
The Pacers still face a tough task if they want to deny the Heat a return to the NBA finals, with Miami having the luxury of hosting game seven on Monday (Tuesday in Manila).
The winners of the series will face Western Conference champions San Antonio in the NBA championship series starting on Thursday (Friday in Manila).
The Spurs will be well-rested against either opponent, thanks to their four-game sweep of Memphis in the Western Conference finals.
“This is where you have to compartmentalize in the playoffs and focus on the main thing,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after his team failed to wrap up the series.
“We work all season long for game seven, home court. Regardless of how you get to that point—play well, don’t play well, win a game, lose a game—it all builds up to this.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for a professional athlete to be part of a game seven, and that’s why our guys are looking forward to this even after a disappointing loss,” he added.
The Pacers led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter. Miami whittled the deficit to four midway through the fourth and were down 77-68 when Heat superstar LeBron James drove to the rim guarded by Hibbert.
James double-clutched, but Hibbert rose straight up to defend the basket, drawing an offensive foul from James who hit him with an elbow.
James, who immediately ran down the court, and Heat assistant coach David Fizdale both received technical fouls in the wake of the play, which James thought was a blown call by officials.
George Hill made both free throws for Indiana to stretch the lead back to 11, and Miami never got within double-digits from there.
“The momentum could have shifted right there if he got an easy dunk,” Hibbert said of the play.
Just as the Heat used a strong third quarter to win game five, the Pacers—trailing by one at halftime—came out firing in the third.
“Total domination by the Pacers in the third,” Miami’s NBA Most Valuable Player James said of a period that Indiana opened with a 14-3 scoring run, highlighted by Hibbert’s drive past Miami center Joel Anthony for a one-handed dunk.
“I think we just did a tremendous effort of recognizing that the last game, our third quarter was really what let us down,” Hibbert said. “We tried to take advantage of that and come out aggressive.”
Even though they trailed at halftime, Indiana coach Frank Vogel said he thought his team had the better of the Heat.
“I felt like we were out-playing them, but we were just leaving a lot of plays out there,” Vogel said. “We had to complete those plays, continue the things that were working for us. We believe in our defensive plan. We’ve got to limit our turnovers, we’ve got to finish at the rim. If we do those things we can take control of the game.
“We knew, in game five, they came out and seized control of the game in the third quarter, and I felt like we could do the same,” Vogel said.