In a battle of the MVP candidates, it was Dwyane Wade, the one who always seems to be overshadowed and underrated, to spoil each star’s day with the elite performance of the night.
Vintage? Not at this point. Not after a third consecutive game of at least 24 points on 60 percent shooting. Not after scoring a season-high 32 points on 15-of-25 shooting against the league’s top defense of the Indiana Pacers, in terms of efficiency, and fueling the Heat from a seemingly insurmountable 15-point third quarter deficit.
The Pacers could only make mid-range jumpers for so long. As the Heat defense brought the pressure, Indiana could only deliver 18 fourth quarter points in their 97-94 loss.
Miami had gone into the fourth quarter facing a five-point deficit and facing as much as an eight-point lead with 3:51 remaining. From there, Dwyane Wade hit a shot plus a foul, which was followed up by a Chris Andersen layup; both shots were off LeBron James’ assists.
The Heat faced a three-point deficit with 1:30 left. Following a night of missing wide-open three-pointers, however, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen went for three-point bombs on consecutive possessions to give the Heat their first lead since the 4:56 mark of the first quarter.
David West countered with a pair of free throws, and the Heat met that with one of the more unexpected plays of the night via a Chris Andersen baseline jumper, which went long. He had previously made one earlier in the night.
With 25 seconds left and facing a one-point deficit, the Pacers had George Hill drive inside, only to turn it over to LeBron thanks to a heavy contest on Paul George in the corner.
Ray Allen proceeded to hit a pair of free throws to give the Heat a three-point lead. George’s three-pointer missed badly at the buzzer, but it did appear that James had his hands on his hip during the shot.
But there isn’t much room to complain about officiating tonight. It was poor for both sides. LeBron and Chris Bosh both faced heavy foul trouble throughout the first half, while Roy Hibbert was pinned with his fifth foul midway through the third quarter.
Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel decided to leave Hibbert in after picking up his fourth and the Heat immediately went to Chris Bosh, who drove on the 7-2 center and forced him into an obvious foul.
Bosh scored 15 points on ten shots and grabbed eight rebounds. The fouls he drew on Hibbert were crucial to Miami’s success in the paint, where they scored 52 percent of their points, and it led to the Heat actually winning the rebounding battle, 37-36.
Hibbert, who scored 24 points in the team’s previous meeting, took only three shots, scored only six points and grabbed only two rebounds.
With Hibbert playing only 23 minutes, the Heat attacked the paint all night, scoring 50 to Indiana’s 30. It was a necessity for Miami as their three-point shots went begging for a second consecutive game against the Pacers. As in the case of the last matchup, though, many of the looks were open.
Miami needed to take 10 three-pointers before one would fall. They finished 5-for-21 on the night, with two of the makes occurring in the final minute-and-a-half.
In a matchup of arguably the league’s two leading MVP candidates, LeBron James outdueled Paul George, putting up 24 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and three steals to George’s 25 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals.
It was another brilliant matchup, but it was Dwyane Wade who stole the show, scoring on an array of mid-range curls, transition drives, and post-ups to pace his best scoring night of the season.
This game comes on the heels of a 27-point effort against the Utah Jazz.
Miami faced the prospect of losing the first two games of the four-game regular season series when they faced a 15-point deficit with 5:48 left in the third. They were allowing Paul George and David West to get hot from the mid-range and failed to take advantage of Hibbert being on the bench.
But behind the bench finally making some shots and LeBron firing up the ‘Triple A’ with one of his best dunks of the season by way of a poster dunk on David West, the Heat cut the deficit into a manageable five points heading into the fourth.
Although he didn’t score a point in the final six minutes, LeBron assisted on four of the Heat’s final seven makes, including the two three-pointers that flipped the scoreboard.
Expect the Heat to be in a wire-to-wire finish when they play the Sacramento Kings on Friday. The effort exerted in the final minutes in this victory over Indiana, which cut their conference lead to one game, will make it worth it.