Before the champion Miami Heat faced the challenger Indiana Pacers Wednesday night, the teams engaged in a battle of verbiage that did not indicate they were chummy. And the action on the floor exemplified the advancing animosity between to the teams.
LeBron James needed a cotton swab in his nose to keep playing in the fourth quarter after he was whacked in the face. Dwyane Wade spent the final minute of the game icing his right hamstring.
Indiana center Roy Hibbert took an elbow to the face that left him so groggy he didn’t even remember getting hit. How’d he get it? James was called for a flagrant foul when he drove to the basket and sent the 7-foot-2, 290-pound Hibbert crashing to the ground. When Hibbert got up, he stumbled. Eventually he had to leave the court to change his blood-spattered jersey, but he refused to sit against the Heat.
Wade and Lance Stephenson were assessed technical fouls over a shoving match. Stephenson was ejected midway through the fourth quarter after picking up his second technical for celebrating a basket.
But that’s what the Heat extracted from the Pacers: pure emotion. The Pacers earned an 84-83 win in a physical game. In the process, they let it be known that they have the audacity necessary to challenge the Heat.
“They’re the champs, they’re going to bring out the best in us,” said bruising forward David West, who made a 3-pointer with 50.2 seconds to go. “They bring out the best in anybody. I thought we just had enough fight.”
There were potential fights all night, a display of bravado that Indiana believes is necessary against the champions. More than that, the Pacers played better, if only by a little bit, on a night when James was brilliant. The four-time MVP had 38 points on 9-for-15 shooting, eight rebounds, five assists. However, James and Wade each had six turnovers.
Miami managed only one basket over the final 3 minutes, 23 seconds. James and Chris Bosh both missed late jumpers that would have given Miami the lead, the last an airball by Bosh from just right of the top of the key as time expired.
“They’re a tough team, psychologically against most teams they have the edge,” West said. “They’ve got the best player in the game. Their pedigree, their entire organization, you understand what you’re going to get.”
Evan Turner, a 25-year-old, replaced Stephenson in the lineup and made two strong plays down the stretch that pulled the Pacers back from a four-point deficit.
“When I got back in, coach said, ‘Welcome to the rivalry,’ ” Turner said.