In a series that’s been as close and competitive throughout as possible, and where neither team has been able to beat the other twice in a row, it’s fitting that it’ll be decided by a Game 7.
The Pacers dominated defensively and dominated inside, and held off a late rally by the Heat to earn the 91-77 victory that evened the series at three games apiece.
The problems for the Heat in Game 6 were very similar to the ones they faced in Game 5 — Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh continued to be massively ineffective, and LeBron James (along with some random role players) struggled to keep Miami close without the contributions they’ve been accustomed to receiving from the Heat’s core players.
Wade and Bosh combined for just 15 points, on 4-of-19 shooting.
Credit the Pacers defense for some of that, especially where Bosh is concerned. Indiana’s size has been giving him fits all series long, and this one was no different. With Wade, it’s another story. He’s giving the Heat all he has physically, but it’s nowhere near the level he’s capable of when fully healthy. Add in the fact that Miami doesn’t have anywhere else to turn in terms of its bench unit for consistent point production, and you get this 77-point result.
Miami actually held a one-point lead at the half, thanks in part to 14 points from James. But more important was the three-point shooting that kept the Heat close — the team was 7-of-9 from three-point distance in the first half, but just 9-of-34 inside the arc. That’s how crushing Indiana’s defense was inside.
The third quarter played out as the opposite of the one we saw in Miami in Game 5. While LeBron took that one over by coming out and scoring 16 points in the period to win the game essentially all by himself, the Pacers used a stifling team defensive attack to ignite their offense in Game 6, and built a lead of as many as 17 points.
The Heat would not go quietly, however, and went on a huge run to get as close as four with 5:53 remaining before the Pacers stabilized. Miami attacked the basket on seemingly every possession during that stretch, helped by a big effort from the seldom-used Mike Miller off the bench. Miller hit consecutive three-pointers, and came up with some key rebounds and a steal while the Heat were attempting their furious comeback.
But it all fell apart for Miami on the next few possessions. A missed defensive rotation resulted in Paul George getting a look at a wide open three from the top of the arc that he calmly drained, and then David West got an offensive rebound and a dunk to quickly push the lead back to nine.
Then, for the first time all series long, LeBron drove the ball hard to the basket while Roy Hibbert was waiting for him at the rim inside. James went up and challenged Hibbert, and the two collided in the air chest to chest. But LeBron was whistled for the offensive foul, either because he led with his knee in a way similar to what Shane Battier had done against Hibbert earlier in the series (though not nearly as egregiously), or because he led with an elbow or forearm that the officials thought to be too much.
Either way, the ensuing reaction from James was to sprint the length of the floor in disbelief, which received a technical foul from the officials. A Heat assistant coach picked one up as well, and after all was said and done, the Pacers lead was back to 13 and the game was essentially finished.
James finished with 29 points on 21 shots, and the only other Heat players in double figures were Wade and Mario Chalmers with 10 apiece. Hibbert and George were the scoring leaders for the Pacers with 24 and 28 points respectively, but the team advantages in points in the paint (44-22) and rebounding (53-33) were really what pushed Indiana into the win column in this one.
Game 7 is set for Monday night in Miami, and after watching these teams battle so hard for six straight games, we shouldn’t have expected anything less.