MIAMI — The Indiana Pacers were supposed to be better this season.
They’re not, and now the Miami Heat heads to Indianapolis with a chance to close out this series on that home court that Indiana was banking on.
A key player was missing for the Heat in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, but the two-time defending champions still pieced together perhaps their most complete game of the playoffs and defeated the Pacers 102-90 to go up 3-1 in these best-of-7 series.
Chris Andersen was a late lineup scratch due to a left thigh contusion, and that put the pressure on Chris Bosh to respond. He did. Bosh scored 25 points after struggling through the first three games of the series, and his three-point shots in the first half — he had three of them — seemed to suck the life out of the young Pacers in the early going.
Bosh had 17 points in the first half and finished the game 7 of 12 from the field, including 3 of 5 from three-point range and 8 of 10 from the free-throw line.
LeBron James had 32 points after Pacers guard Lance Stephenson openly questioned James’ mental toughness on Sunday. James flexed his muscle throughout this one for his best performance of the conference finals.
James went inside on Pacers power forward David West for a three-point play to give the Heat a 102-90 lead with 1:22 left. The Heat’s lead hit 23 points in the fourth quarter before a late run by the Pacers kept everyone in their seats until the final two minutes.
Paul George led the Pacers with 23 points and West finished with 20 points, but Indiana couldn’t stop the Heat inside. Miami went 30 of 34 from the free-throw line. The Pacers were 11 of 17.
A technical foul on Pacers center Roy Hibbert after the whistle put Allen at the line for a foul shot and Dwyane Wade went inside on the reset to put the Heat ahead by 19 points with 10:55 to play in the game. Allen and Wade weren’t finished.
A three-pointer by Allen gave the Heat an 89-68 lead with 8:49 to play and Wade followed with a three-point play that ran the Heat’s lead to 21 points.
Wade finished with 15 points, going 4 of 12 from the field, but was perfect 7 of 7 from the free-throw line. Wade went at the teeth of the Pacers’ interior defense from the beginning, and helped put Hibbert and Stephenson in foul trouble early in the first half.
Pacers coach Rank Vogel received a technical foul with 1:57 left in the third quarter and the Heat converted the mental lapse into three points with a free throw by Allen and a 17-foot fadeaway jumper by James. James then grabbed the defensive rebound on the other end and raced the length of the court for a thunderous dunk.
A block by Norris Cole on a three-point attempt by Stephenson then triggered another breakaway and Stephenson picked up his fourth foul rather than give James another highlight. Cole made both foul shots to extend the 7-0 run.
The Heat’s lead hit 19 points with 19 seconds left in the third quarter when Cole found space for an 18-foot jumper.
A three-pointer by James gave the Heat a 16-point lead with 4:09 left in the third quarter. The shot gave James 25 points at that point. He finished with 10 rebounds and five assists.
It was an even first half save for a few too many turnovers by the Pacers in the first quarter. Bosh established himself early with a 17-foot jumper 18 seconds into the game. He then scored the Heat’s first eight points. Bosh entered the game averaging nine points in the series.
James said before the game that he wanted to be aggressive in the first quarter and he wasted no time with driving attempts into the lane. He finished the first half with 15 points and went inside for five of them in the final two minutes of the second quarter.
James’ cutting layup on a nice feed by Bosh gave the Heat a seven-point lead and James maneuvered inside on the Heat’s next possession for a reverse dunk. Hill fouled James during the dunk and the Heat’s back-to-back MVP converted the three-point play to give the Heat a 49-39 lead.