The Miami Heat are the NBA champions until dethroned, but it still matters to them that they came back from 15 points down on Wednesday night to knock off their perceived toughest challenger, the Indiana Pacers.
With rising star Paul George leading the way, Indiana was on target to send as strong a message as can be sent in December by winning on the Heat’s home court. However, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James showed their back-to-back championship mettle, erasing the deficit in the final 18 minutes to pull out a thumping 97-94 victory.
“They stole the game,” said Pacers forward David West.
It only felt that way. In reality, the Heat did what has become almost routine. That is, Miami believed, despite trailing 68-53 midway through the third quarter.
“It shows we’re a team that’s been there before,” said Wade, who had 32 points. “No matter what the score is, we always feel we have an opportunity to win the game.”
The outcome was sealed when George (25 points) missed a potential game-tying three-pointer with four seconds remaining. He said James pushed him in the back as he went up for the shot. “I thought it was a foul,” George said. “Nothing was called. Aside of that, we still should have taken care of business.”
Rather, the Heat got busy when the game looked to be getting out of hand. They pulled within five points entering the fourth quarter. But the Pacers did not crack. They led 92-85 with 3:21 to play, but were not able to hold on to that advantage.
Miami scored the next 10 points, with Chris Bosh’s three-point shot tying the game. After a West miss, Ray Allen put the Heat in the lead, 95-92, for the first time since the opening quarter.
They were able to hold on from there.
“Good, good, quality win against a very good team on our home floor,” James said. “We had to overcome a lot.”