MIAMI — With Wonder Woman in the stands, Wonder Man came up short.
Miami Heat forward LeBron James is so good these days that Indiana Pacers guard George Hill said the “only person … scarier … is God.’’ But James somehow faltered Friday night.
With Lynda Carter, who once played on television a woman with out-of-this-world powers, among the many celebrities in attendance, James somehow lost his magic in the final minute at American Airlines Arena. The result was a 97-93 loss to the Pacers, leaving the Eastern Conference finals tied 1-1.
With the game going down to the wire, one figured it would be time for James to win it. That’s what he did in Game 1, cruising in for the decisive layup at the buzzer in a 103-102 overtime victory.
But James had a pass intercepted with 43 seconds left and the Heat trailing 95-93. Given another chance with the score still the same, he had another turnover on a pass with 8.3 seconds remaining.
Never mind that James had 36 points and eight rebounds. He really was irked by the turnovers.
“Very disappointing, of course, for me,’’ James said. “I had two key ones at a big point in the game. I am very disappointed in my judgment and my plays down the stretch … My turnovers hurt more than anything.’’
There’s been little with which to fault James during a season in which he won his fourth MVP and led the Heat to a 66-16 record. Entering Friday, they had won a staggering 46 of 49 games.
So what did the ending of Game 2 show?
“Hey, I mean he’s human,’’ said Indiana forward Paul George, who continued his scintillating duel with James by scoring 22 points and handing out six assists.
But just barely. Pacers guard George Hill was asked after the game if there’s any player in the world more dangerous than James with the ball.
“The only person that’s, you know, more scarier than that and, that’s, you know, God,’’ Hill said.
They may be known as the Heatles, but James offered no John Lennon-like response when asked about Hill’s comment. It was Lennon, who once said about the Beatles, “We’re more popular than Jesus.’’
“I’m nowhere near close,” James said about God. “I made two mistakes tonight. That hurt our team. And that hurt more than anything. Let my teammates down. They expect me to make plays down the stretch.’’
Thanks to James, the Heat have won virtually every close game they’ve played for nearly four months. And few in the crowd at American Airlines Arena figured James would fail to come through once again.
On his first miscue, James said guard Ray Allen was coming to set a pick-and-roll and James got “careless’’ making the pass. It was knocked away by Pacers forward David West.
On the second one, James said he saw Allen “wide open’’ beyond the 3-point stripe but that James got “careless once again.’’ While West again smacked the ball away, Hill actually was credited with the steal after retrieving it. Hill then sank two free throws with 8.3 seconds left to seal the ouscome.
Other than losing, James hates nothing more than turnovers. He had five on the night.
“There’s no given in this league,’’ Heat forward Shane Battier said of James’ two surprising turnovers in the final minute. “We got the best player in the world on our team. It happens. It just happens.’’
It was no given the Heat would put away the pesky Pacers, even after overcoming a 13-point deficit to take an 88-84 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Indiana was the stronger team down the stretch.
Even 7-foot-2 Pacers center Roy Hibbert, who sometimes has gotten winded late, was as fresh as a point guard at the end. He scored four of his team’s final 10 points and finished with a team-high 29 to go along with a game-high 10 rebounds.
Hibbert, regarded by many as the NBA’s best rim protector, was involved in controversy in Game 1. With Pacers coach Frank Vogel worried about agile Heat center Chris Bosh possibly taking Hibbert outside for a jumper, Vogel elected not to use Hibbert for the final 2.2 seconds. It wasn’t exactly a Red Auerbach-type decision, as James waltzed down the lane for the easy game-winning layup.
Obviously, Hibbert was in the game this time down the stretch. His presence might have prevented James from driving in for another layup.
“I wanted to make sure I closed the lane off so he doesn’t get an easy opportunity,’’ Hibbert said.
Now, what many thought would be an easy stroll to the title for Miami looks considerably more difficult. The Heat have lost home court advantage, and for Games 3 and 4 must go to Indiana, where they went 0-2 during the regular season while being outscored by an average of 11.5 points.
They also might have to play Sunday’s Game 3 without guard Dwyane Wade. It’s possible he could be suspended for what looked like a cheap-shot elbow to the head of Pacers guard Lance Stephenson in the second half. The officials missed it and no foul was called.
The Heat also lost Game 2 at home to Indiana last year in an East semifinal. They then dropped Game 3 on the road before winning three straight to close out the series 4-2. But this is a more mature Pacers outfit.
“We’re up for the challenge,’’ said Bosh, who scored 17 points. “I know they are up for it too. We’re tested now and we got to respond.’’
James is vowing he will be back.
“I’ll make up for them,’’ he said of his two late turnovers.
One hardly figures we’ve seen the last of Wonder Man in this series.