What happened: The Indiana Pacers aren’t going away.
The Pacers held on Saturday night to defeat the Miami Heat 91-77 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. That tied the Eastern Conference finals 3-3 and forced a Game 7 Monday night in Miami.
The Pacers watched as a 17-point third-quarter lead was cut to 72-68 when Heat forward LeBron James made a layup with 5:52 left in the game. But the Pacers soon pushed the lead back to double digits.
Forward Paul George led the Pacers with 28 points and center Roy Hibbert had 24 points and 11 rebounds. James led the Heat with 29 points, and no other player scored more than 10.
There was some controversy when, with 4:18 left and Indiana up 77-68, James drove in on Hibbert for a layup and banged into him. In a call that could have gone either way, James was given an offensive foul.
An upset James got a technical for running down the court, and there also was a technical called on Miami assistant David Fizdale. George Hill then made both foul shots to give the Pacers a secure 79-68 lead.
The turning point: Trailing 40-39 at halftime, the Pacers blitzed the Heat 29-15 in the third quarter to take a 68-55 lead.
It was similar to the Heat’s outscoring the Pacers 30-13 in a decisive third quarter in Miami’s 90-79 win in Game 5.
During the third quarter, the Pacers took their largest lead of the game at 66-49. But the Heat did at least cut the deficit to 13 at the end of the quarter, setting the stage for their fourth-quarter run.
The difference maker: Indiana’s frontline. The Pacers destroyed the Heat on the boards 53-33.
Pacers forward David West, playing despite illness, had 14 rebounds, center Roy Hibbert pulled down 11 and forward Paul George had eight. Indiana’s rebounding extended to the backcourt, as guard Lance Stephenson had 12 boards.
The Pacers’ three frontline starters outscored Miami’s three 63-34. When it came to reserves, it didn’t help that Heat backup center Chris Andersen had been suspended due to a hard shove of Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough in Game 5.
What it means: For the second straight year, the Heat will need to win a Game 7 at home to make it to the NBA Finals. The Heat last year overcame a 3-2 deficit to defeat Boston 4-3 in the East finals before winning their second NBA crown.
You better believe James will be ready for a Game 7. Although he’s just 1-2 in his NBA career in Game 7s, he’s averaged 34.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists in those games.
What’s next: Game 7 of the series is at 8:30 p.m. Monday at AmericanAirlines Arena.