INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana spent the first 45 minutes moving the Heat to the brink of trouble.
Then the Pacers just threw it away with bad passes and missed shots.
LeBron James and Dwayne Wade took advantage of Indiana’s flurry of empty possessions by scoring Miami’s final 20 points and leading the two-time defending champs past the Pacers 87-83 to even the Eastern Conference finals at one game apiece.
“That’s everything,” Indiana star Paul George said when asked about the turnovers. “When you play against the Miami Heat and you turn the ball over, they’re going to score. You can’t do that against a team like Miami. That was the turning point.”
It was a tough, gritty game and for much of it, the Pacers appeared to have the upper hand.
But like so many other times, Miami’s money men seized control. James and Wade keyed a 12-2 run that erased the Pacers’ 75-72 lead.
Indiana’s Lance Stephenson tied his playoff career high with 25 points and George finished with 14, not quite enough against James and Wade.
“When they’ve beaten us, it’s been because we haven’t been able to handle their pressure,” David West said. “I thought we did a good job of dealing with it in spots, but particularly late, they cranked it up and trapped us. We can’t panic in those moments.”
James scored the first six points in the key fourth-quarter run, and combined with Wade for Miami’s final 20 points.
Wade, who had 13 points in the Heat’s 41-point first half, scored his final 10 in the fourth. James, who finished with 22 points, had 12 in the fourth. Together they helped Miami avoid falling into a 2-0 deficit for the first time since the first round of the 2010 playoffs.
“That’s why they’re the hundred million dollar guys,” teammate Norris Cole said. “They’re unstoppable. They make the game easy for everyone else when they’re in attack mode.”
Now the series shifts back to Miami for Game 3 on Saturday and Game 4 on Monday.
This one had a different feel compared to a couple of Miami’s important games in the 2013 postseason.
A year ago in Game 7 at Miami, the Heat’s money players overwhelmed Indiana 99-76. Then, after losing Game 1 in the finals to San Antonio, James, Wade and Chris Bosh helped Miami storm back for a 19-point win.
On Tuesday, the Pacers were in a strong position midway through the fourth before James and Wade helped Miami seize the home-court advantage Indiana so desperately wanted for this series.
Miami has won 11 straight games following a playoff loss.
“It’s not going to be pretty. Not in the Eastern Conference,” James said. “It’s never pretty basketball in the Eastern Conference. It’s about who can sustain runs. You know, who can get defensive stops? Who can not turn the ball over and who can get great shots? I think we did that in the fourth.”
At times, the rough-and-tumble night took on the aura of a football game, especially late.
When George and Wade collided chasing a loose ball, both came up grimacing. Wade held his left knee. George also grabbed at his knee though he said afterward he had blurred vision and may have blacked out. Coach Frank Vogel would not confirm George’s description.
Another time, James crashed hard to the floor when West was called for a flagrant one foul in the fourth quarter, which was changed to a common foul following a replay review. There were hard picks, tight defense and James and Wade back in their old groove.
“Today it was just about how bad we wanted it,” Wade said. “It wasn’t about Xs and Os. It wasn’t a perfect game by no stretch of the imagination. We kept digging down deep, and we got back to Miami Heat basketball.”
Even the Heat acknowledged they were in trouble Tuesday after Indiana used a 10-2 third-quarter run to retake a 47-45 lead, and then extended the margin to 63-56 with 2:07 left in the third quarter.
James closed out the quarter by finding Bosh and Cole for open 3-pointers to make it 63-62.
George hit a 29-footer to make it 73-69 with 7:19 left. But James and Wade stepped up again.
James hit a 3 to make it a one-point game, and after Roy Hibbert made a 6-foot hook shot, James scored six straight to start the decisive 12-2 run that sealed the win.
“We have no idea we’re doing that until after the game,” James said. “We’re just going to make the right play for our team. Tonight was one of those nights.”
NOTES: Miami coach Erik Spoelstra started Udonis Haslem instead of Shane Battier. Center Greg Oden again was inactive. ... George was just 1 of 11 from the field in the first half. ... Miami residents Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya, both Indy 500 champions, attended the game and waved towels.