LeBron James was promised some rest. It never came.
The MVP didn’t care, not after he and the Miami Heat struck the first blow against the Indiana Pacers.
James accepted his third MVP trophy from Commissioner David Stern before the game, then scored 26 of his game-high 32 points while playing every second of the second half — adding a season-high 15 rebounds as well — as the Heat survived some rough stretches to beat the Pacers 95-86 on Sunday in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
”I just looked at him straight in the eyes and said, `You can flat-out not get tired, period,”’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”And he made MVP plays on both ends of the court.”
Dwyane Wade scored 29 points for the Heat, who won the game but lost Chris Bosh for the second half and possibly longer. Bosh scored 13 points before leaving late in the first half with a lower abdominal strain, with the team saying he was being scheduled for an MRI exam to determine the severity.
”Hopefully (Monday) we get good news,” Wade said. ”We all just want to make sure Chris is healthy. So that’s all we know right now. Our brother is going to go (Monday) to see if he can get back out there and play with us. If not, then we’ve got to have someone step up very big. You can’t fill Chris Bosh’s shoes, but you can have a few guys step up. So we’ll see.”
David West and Roy Hibbert each scored 17 points and combined for 23 rebounds for the Pacers, who got 10 points each from Darren Collison and George Hill. Indiana controlled long stretches of the first half and didn’t trail by more than two points at any time until the fourth quarter, when it was outscored 25-16.
Indiana shot 50 percent in the first half, 30 percent in the second.
”We started to get defensive stops,” James said. ”We started getting things rolling.”
Game 2 is Tuesday in Miami.
”We’re not just here to play. We’re here to win,” Hibbert said. ”We need to win Game 2 and come back strong.”
Playing one star down, James and Wade raised their games accordingly after halftime. They combined for 42 points in the third and fourth quarters, four more than the entire Indiana roster. The Pacers scored 16 in the fourth, and James had that many alone.
”We definitely let this one get away,” Indiana’s Paul George said. ”It seemed like we weren’t supposed to win this one. Everybody in this room knew we had this game.”
Everything was undecided until the final moments. Hill made a 3-pointer with 4:51 left, getting Indiana within 86-85. But the Pacers missed their final nine shots of the game, James had a dunk in transition to make it 90-85 with 4:10 left, and his jumper with 31.8 seconds remaining wrapped up the Heat win.
”It’s a battle and we know, regardless of being at home, being away, who we’re playing, what round, it’s tough to win in the playoffs and you have to fight for every single possession,” Spoelstra said. ”And that’s what it was.”
From his seat a few rows above the court, it was like Stern knew what was coming long before it happened.
Stern was on hand to present James with his MVP trophy in a pregame ceremony. Later, in a televised in-game interview, Stern told ABC that James is just ”warming up” with three MVPs, a total that only seven other players have reached.
”He’s a great player,” Stern said. ”He is so strong and so athletic and so determined when he decides to take over a game, he’s extraordinary to watch.”
Before Sunday, the last time someone had as many as 32 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and two steals in a playoff game was Vince Carter in May 2006, according to STATS LLC. Plus, James played a big role in something that didn’t show up on his personal stat line — Danny Granger shot 1 for 10 for Indiana, scoring only seven points.
”I don’t know if he’s going to have a huge offensive series,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. ”When you have to guard the MVP for 38 minutes, it takes a lot out of your offensive game.”
Wade shot only 8 for 23 from the field, and the Heat missed all six of their attempts from 3-point range — a first in team playoff history. But the Heat held a 45-38 rebounding edge, and allowed Indiana to make only 11-of-37 shots after halftime.
”Definitely not our best game,” Vogel said. ”We didn’t shoot it very well. … It came down to execution in the fourth quarter and you’ve got to give credit to Miami’s defense.”
In the pregame MVP ceremony, James told fans how ”electricity” was going to be important throughout the playoffs.
One team came out electrified — and it wasn’t Miami.
The Pacers trailed for only 56 seconds in the first half, never down by more than a basket. Indiana opened the game with an 11-4 run, held Miami to 37 percent shooting in the first two quarters, and rode the strength of a 19-6 edge in bench scoring to take a 48-42 lead going into halftime — surviving some foul trouble as well.
Of the 10 players Vogel used in the first half, seven had at least two fouls, and Hill had three.
But by then, Miami had a bigger problem to address, that being Bosh’s injury. He got hurt with 1:06 left in the half on a dunk while getting fouled by Hibbert. Bosh remained down for a few moments, then got up slowly and made his free throw.
While going back down to the defensive end, Bosh started limping and grabbing at his midsection. He eventually fell to his knees in pain, and was replaced by Ronny Turiaf with 43.6 seconds left. Bosh was grimacing as he headed to the Heat locker room for evaluation, as his wife covered an anguished look on her face while watching from courtside.
”It’s unfortunate Chris went down,” Wade said. ”But we told him, `Be healthy. We got `em.”
NOTES: Wade is appearing in his 18th playoff series with Miami, one more than Alonzo Mourning for the most in Heat franchise history. … The fans in Miami booed when a foul was given to George in the fourth quarter — his fifth — and not assessed to Hibbert. Had the foul been on Hibbert, it would have been his sixth personal. George fouled out about two minutes later. … It was Miami’s 13th consecutive postseason win at home against East opponents.