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Udonis Haslem picks perfect time to rise to occasion

Udonis Haslem isn't known for his offensive production, but his scoring was crucial in Game 3.

LeBron James needed help.

 

So where did his biggest boost come from?

 

Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh stepping up with a 20-point game?

 

Nope.

 

Ray Allen or Shane Battier coming up huge from 3-point range?

 

Nope.

 

The biggest assist came from an unexpected source. Forward Udonis Haslem, who had scored three points combined in the first two games of the series, had 17 on 8-of-9 shooting as the Miami Heat drilled the Indiana Pacers 114-96 Sunday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

 

Haslem scored 13 of his points in the first half as the Heat moved out to a commanding 70-56 lead. His work then was pretty much done, and he logged just 23 minutes for the night.

 

What Haslem did was space the floor. He got numerous open jumpers, one reason being that hulking Pacers center Roy Hibbert likes to stay close to the basket.

 

“We had to pick our poison because (Heat center) Bosh was rolling, he was at the basket, I had to rotate and then Haslem got off,’’ Hibbert said. “He was hitting a lot of shots that he normally wasn’t hitting. He was letting me hear it. I have got to respond. I have to move my feet.’’

 

Pacers coach Frank Vogel seemed less torn up about it.

 

“Is he going to shoot 8 for 9 every night?’’ Vogel said. “I don’t know. We’ll see. If he does, it’s probably going to be a long series for us.’’

 

Yes, Vogel said some adjustments are needed. But he knows the percentages. He knows Haslem shot just 1 of 7 in the first two games of the series.

 

The 10-year veteran turned back the clock Sunday. It couldn’t have come at a better time for the Heat.

 

In a 97-93 loss at home to Indiana in Game 2, James scored 36 points. But only two other Miami players were in double figures, and those two (Bosh with 17 and Wade with 14) didn’t even combine for as many points as James scored.


The Heat had all five starters in double figures Sunday, including James leading the way with 22. Wade, with 18, and Bosh, with 15, were two of the others, although they were under their seasonal averages.

 

No big deal. Haslem, who averaged 3.9 points during the regular season and was putting up 5.4 in the playoffs entering Sunday, scored the most points he has in a playoff game since June 20, 2006, when he had 17 as the Heat wrapped up their first title with a Game 6 Finals win at Dallas. He also had his career playoff high during that year’s run, getting 20 about a month earlier at New Jersey.

 

“He’s the heartbeat of our team,’’ James said. “He’s … one of the captains of our team. ... For him to come through tonight and do what he was able to offensively from the start (was important).’’

 

The Heat have stars all over the place. But if they can get role players such as Haslem to step up the way he did, there might be no hope for anybody else in these playoffs.

 

Then again, the Heat always are ornery after a loss. They still haven’t dropped two straight games since Jan. 8 and 10.

 

And everyone remembers what happened the previous time they had lost to the Pacers. After dropping a 102-89 decision Feb. 1 at Indiana, they reeled off 27 straight wins, the second-most in NBA history.

 

After Friday’s loss at home, the Heat needed just seven wins for a second straight title. The way they played Sunday, maybe they all will be in a row.

 

The Heat had just five turnovers, a team postseason-record low. They had just one in the first half when they scored more than they had in entire playoff games against Detroit in 2006 (a 91-66 loss) and against Atlanta in 2009 (a 90-64 defeat in the first playoff game Heat coach Erik Spoelstra ever directed).

 

The 6-foot-8 James did his normally impressive work Sunday. The difference was he took his game most of the night into the post, where he pounded Paul George, who is the same height but 30 pounds lighter than the 250-pound James.

 

“I made a conscious effort to sit down in the post tonight, try to put pressure on the defense,’’ James said. “(Spoelstra) and the coaching staff wanted me to be down there tonight, and my teammates allowed me to do that.’’

 

With their small forward down among the big guys, their power forward stepped outside. Haslem made six of his field goals on jumpers.

 

"I tried to get down the floor early, get to my spacing, and make the big guy (Hibbert) make a decision,” Haslem said. "Credit my guys, they found me, and I just shot it with confidence.”


Before disappearing offensively in the first two games of this series, Haslem actually had shown some decent offensive signs. He had scored in double figures in five of his previous 12 regular-season and playoff games after having gone 52 straight games without getting there.

 

Haslem hasn’t been the same player since James and Bosh arrived in 2010 to join Wade. He suffered a broken foot early in the 2010-11 season and missed most of it. Being undersized at 6-8, it’s gotten tougher for him now that he’s 32.

 

But Haslem had been feeling more comfortable prior to Sunday’s eruption. He told FOX Sports Florida last week it was a lengthy process learning how to fit into the offense after the Big Three joined forces, one not helped by his broken foot and an abbreviated training camp before the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season.

 

“It took me 2½ years to figure out my place and my role and where to be aggressive and where I’m going to get my shots from,’’ Haslem had said. “It was a work in progress. It wasn’t easy, getting comfortable, getting in a rhythm and also be aggressive and staying out of those guys’ way.’’

 

Haslem sure looked comfortable Sunday. It was the most points he’d scored in any game since getting 21 Nov. 9, 2010, against Boston, nine days before he broke his foot.

 

“The one thing (Haslem) saw from Game 1 is that he had a lot of opportunities,’’ Wade said of Haslem shooting just 1 of 6 in the 103-102 overtime win before going 0 of 1 in the Game 2 loss. “He was peeved off he wasn’t knocking down those shots. We knew he was going to have one of those games. We didn’t know when it was going to come. When he started off tonight, he was locked in.’’

 

That might be a stretch for Wade to really believe Haslem soon would have a scoring game like he did Sunday. After all, he hadn’t had one like that in seven years in the playoffs and 2½ years overall.

 

But Haslem sure picked a good time for it to happen.


Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson.