INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Miami’s fearsome threesome has suddenly become a one-man show.
It’s already cost the Heat one chance to reach the NBA Finals, and if they don’t get things fixed by Monday, the vanishing act could leave the defending champs home sooner than anyone anticipated.
Four-time MVP LeBron James scored 29 points, had seven rebounds and six assists, but Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade couldn’t even match those numbers together Saturday night in Miami’s 91-77 loss that left the Eastern Conference finals tied at 3-3.
Wade finished with 10 points, two rebounds and one assist, while Bosh added five points, four rebounds and no assists for the Heat, who will host Game 7 on Monday.
“My rhythm seems off, it’s been like that the whole series,” Bosh said. “Now I have to go and find it. I’ve got 48 hours to do that.”
Perhaps Bosh’s poor showing in this series is Miami’s decision to leave Bosh on the perimeter to try and draw Roy Hibbert and David West out of the paint.
For the most part, it hasn’t worked. Hibbert had another double-double with 24 points and 11 rebounds, while David West added 11 points and 14 rebounds despite playing through an upper respiratory infection.
Wade’s late-season fade has been considered a result of his injured right knee. The perennial All-Star and two-time NBA champ wouldn’t bite on it.
“I don’t want to talk about the knee,” he said. “I haven’t talked about it for the last two months and I’m not about to start now.”
Instead, the league’s most dominant team will spend the next two days preparing for what most people believed inconceivable when this series began — a one-game shot to save the season.
Hibbert did everything but pull out the boxing gloves in Game 6, continually contesting Miami’s shots to help Indiana stave off elimination.
Paul George scored 28 points, had eight rebounds and five assists, and the Pacers held Miami to 36.1 percent shooting as they booked a trip back to Miami for Game 7 on Monday night.
“Myself and David, we throw ourselves in the fray, in the paint. We like to muck it up,” Hibbert said. “Paul and myself, we wanted to make sure we got this for him as well. We didn’t want this to be our last game.”
The Pacers have pushed James and his high-scoring, high-profile teammates to the brink of elimination by punching back, and Game 6 followed a familiar story line. The Pacers had a 53-33 rebounding advantage, outscored Miami 44-22 in the paint and limited Miami’s shooters to 16 of 54, 29.6 percent, from inside the arc.
How have the Pacers done it? With Hibbert controlling the inside after adding MMA training to his offseason regiment.
“Roy Hibbert is making extraordinary plays in the pocket, poise in the pocket we call it,” coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s getting paint catches and just having great poise, great reads. He’s not plowing over guys. He had a charge in Game 5, but has been under control.”
It was everything an elimination game should be. The teams traded baskets and jabs, sometimes literally, and players ignored the bumps and bruises of yet another wrestling match that has made this tough-guy series compelling.
Both teams attacked the basket, sometimes with problematic results. Indiana missed about five dunk attempts in the first half and a series of short jumpers, too, costing them precious points.
The Heat struggled, meanwhile, starting the game just 3 of 22 from inside the 3-point line. Miami’s Big Three — James, Wade and Bosh — went just 14 of 40. Excluding James, Miami managed only 16 baskets — eight 3s and eight 2s.
With Chris “Birdman” Andersen suspended for the game because of a shoving incident with Indiana forward Tyler Hansbrough on Thursday, the Heat couldn’t keep up with Indiana’s big rebounders inside. Even Lance Stephenson, who was ineffective at Miami, finished with four points, 12 rebounds and four assists.
Indiana’s loud crowd created a hostile atmosphere, too. Fans chanted “Heat Are Floppers!” sporadically throughout the second half, urging the Pacers to play harder, to defend better and to make another trip home. The only way to do that is to win Game 7 and avoid a second straight playoff elimination at the hands of the Heat.
For Miami, the stakes were so high that when James was called for an offensive foul midway through the fourth quarter, he lost his cool. James protested by running from one end of the court to the other, drawing a technical foul, and when Miami assistant coach David Fizdale showed his support for the league’s four-time MVP, it drew another technical.
George Hill answered by making free throws and Hibbert followed that with a layup, ending any chance of Miami making a late comeback.
James said he was trying to avoid an ejection and would up spending the last 66 seconds sitting a few seats down from the Heat bench cheering on his teammates.
“Explain it? You seen it. It was total domination by the Pacers in the third,” James said when asked what happened to the league’s most dominant team on Saturday. “They made a lot of shots, we didn’t get too many stops and we missed some very, very easy shots.”
It was a complete reversal from Game 5, when Miami took control by outscoring the Pacers 30-13 in the third.
This time, against one of the league’s top offensive teams, the Pacers gave up only six points in the first eight minutes of the quarter, using a 14-2 run to turn a 40-39 halftime deficit into a 66-49 lead with 1:15 left in the quarter. Hibbert scored nine in the quarter.
Miami did close to within 68-55 after three, but it was too big a deficit to overcome — even with James running the show.
The Heat rallied early in the fourth, taking advantage of Indiana’s 1 for 6 start from the field. When Mike Miller hit back-to-back 3s, the Pacers’ lead was down to 70-64 and when James scored on a layup with 5:54 to play, the Heat were within 72-68.
But the run ended abruptly when George hit a 3, Miami’s Joel Anthony was called for a loose ball foul on the offensive end and David West grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a dunk to extend the lead to 77-68. Then came the technical flurry that finished it off.
Notes: Miami matched its season-low point total (77), which also occurred against the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Jan. 8. … Miami finished the season 1-4 at Indiana, losing twice in the regular season and twice in the playoffs. … After the game, Hibbert criticized the media for not recognizing the Pacers as a good team — using a foul two-word expletive that will almost certainly draw a fine from the league. … Former Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine performed the National Anthem on a harmonica.
/* Style Definitions */
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)