Heat rebound with convincing win, remind us of how good they are

INDIANAPOLIS -- This was our reminder, our living and breathing lecture on how good the Miami Heat can be.

More important, it was a reminder to them, as well.

Rightfully so, the defending champs didn't emerge from the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals tied 1-1 with the Pacers viewing it as an aberration or a speed bump. They saw it as a very real challenge, a threat to their designs on a second straight title. And as they usually do when faced with a bit of trouble -- because trouble has only come in small doses for a team that closed the regular season 45-3 and went 8-1 in the first two rounds -- they woke up and corrected it.

"Losses have one amazing property," Shane Battier was saying in the locker room, after the Heat beat the Pacers 114-96 on Sunday night to take a 2-1 series lead. "They clean the wax out of your ears."

For the Heat, losses are better than Q-tips.

This was our reminder that the Heat don't lose two games in a row; they haven't done so since Jan. 8 and 10, when they lost at Indiana and at Portland. They don't lose on the road, either; they've won 10 straight away from home since their 27-game winning streak ended in Chicago on March 27.

And they didn't let it happen again on Sunday night, facing a potential 2-1 deficit in the conference finals, for a variety of reasons.

Erik Spoelstra's adjustments turned Paul George back into a mortal and showed Roy Hibbert different looks, and on the other end, lured Indiana's big men away from the basket to open up space in the paint.

Dwyane Wade, who avoided suspension for his forearm to Lance Stephenson's head in Friday's Game 2, had his most impactful game of the series with 18 points (8-for-14 shooting from the field) and eight assists. Udonis Haslem stepped forward to become the guy who finally would give Miami some production from the supporting case; he made eight of nine shots from the field for 17 points, serving as a key release valve in Miami's previously stagnant offense.

But nothing was more important than LeBron James' realization that the challenge presented by the Pacers was too formidable for he alone to squelch. Facing the enormous temptation to atone for his two turnovers late in Game 2 and deal with the Pacers himself, James had the maturity and self-awareness to resist.

"I got a good night sleep," James said before the game. "I went through it over and over, but there's no time to dwell on the past. Gotta get ready for the next one."

And that's what James did, in ways that make you appreciate his greatness even more.

"We knew this team could beat us, plain and simple," Battier said. "Our effort the first two games was not good enough to win this series."

Miami put up 70 points in the first half after scoring a total of 84 first-half points in the first two games combined. They made eight of their first 10 shots from the field, and guess how many of those came off James' fingertips? Zero.

When he did start shooting, James was on the block, teaching a clinic in low-post play to the rising star of this series, George. That handshake from James in Game 2 might have welcomed George to the elite on Friday night, but with great respect comes great responsibility -- and very high stakes when you are standing in James' way.

"I saw that I had a one-on-one matchup," James said. "They didn't come down [and double team] in the post all game, so I just tried to take advantage of it."

Having been sufficiently beaten up in the post all night, George was a shell of himself offensively with 13 points on 3-for-10 shooting. And now the pressure of this duel between the NBA's biggest star and the one whom he has welcomed to the club has shifted squarely onto George and the Pacers.

"We love the fact that they took home court away from us, and now, ‘Let's see what we're made of,'" James said. "I think we know what we're made of as well."

James didn't have to go into hero mode to recapture home court in this series. He was patient, deliberate and just as diabolical as if he'd scored 50 and done it all himself. He finished with 22 well-chosen points on 8-for-17 shooting from the field. He had only three assists but no turnovers.

"We're nothing without him, and he's nothing without us," Chris Bosh said. "... We never want him to defer. We want LeBron to play basketball. When he plays basketball without thinking, things can happen."

Things like this: The Heat being back in control.

 
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