The Miami Heat entered Tuesday's Game 2 against the Indiana Pacers staring at the previously unthinkable possibility of a 0-2 series deficit. The champs stole an 87-83 road victory, but they did it the hard way, with 21 lead changes and seven ties along the way.
All five Indiana starters reached double figures, but Paul George and David West combined to miss 23 of their 32 shots. Lance Stephenson nearly willed Indiana to victory and scored a game-high 25 points to go with seven assists, but Miami's defense proved too much to contend with down the stretch.
The Pacers led 18-10 after seven minutes of play, then they scored just 19 points over the next 17 minutes as the Heat put together a 29-13 run up to the final minute of the first half.
The crucial turning point came in the final two minutes of the third quarter when a seven-point Indiana lead rapidly dissipated on back-to-back Heat three-pointers from Bosh and bench star Norris Cole. The Pacers managed only 12 points over the next 10 minutes, and the comeback came up short.
The Heat displayed their poise and moved to 5-0 in the Big Three era when they lose Game 1.
Player grades start at C for a decent overall performance. That increases or decreases based on the quality of each player's contributions, with extra credit for huge stats or a clutch performance. (We'll put role players on the grading curve.) Here are complete grades from the Game 2 tussle in Indy.
Key Heat Grades
LeBron James, Small Forward
LeBron scored only two points in the first quarter and six by halftime. While he showed greater aggression in the second half, the Pacers succeeded in bottling him up for 12 points through three quarters. Then he and Wade took over the offense and propelled Miami to victory.
LeBron finished with 22 points, seven rebounds, six assists, three blocks and two steals, yet his impact on the game never lifted Miami into a comfortable lead. He got just enough done when it mattered, and the Heat are back in the position of being able to take control of a tied series in Games 3 and 4.
James told ESPN's Doris Burke on the telecast after the game about what makes the Heat's defense so special when it needs to be: "We fly around...That's what good about this team. We go back, we watch the film, we own up to what we did, the mistakes that we had, and then we come out and make it happen."
The Heat held Indy to their lowest scoring outputs in the second and fourth quarters, because champions know how to close out halves.
Dwyane Wade, Shooting Guard
With Indy hounding LeBron, Wade found more room to work and made several deft drives to the rack in the early going. He also got a handful of shooter's rolls off the rim with his silky touch.
Wade and James combined for 22 of their 45 total points in the decisive fourth quarter, and after Wade appeared to tweak his knee on a scramble for a loose ball, he effortlessly threw down a reverse dunk that all but sealed the game.
Chris Bosh, Center
Bosh's shooting struggles continued in the first half, as he scored just two points and even hit the side of the backboard on an attempt from the corner. He finished with nine points and six rebounds.
His play has been largely forgettable in this series, but his lone blocked shot of the game helped put a damper on Stephenson's arena-rocking play in the third quarter.
Mario Chalmers, Point Guard
Chalmers ended on six points, three points and five turnovers. That unusual number of turnovers was partly a factor of some physical play on the interior that officials let slide. He did not appear accustomed to that level of contact and chippiness without the obliging calls.
Udonis Haslem, Power Forward
After the Pacers' starting frontcourt exploded for 62 points in Game 1, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra opted to shift James to small forward and start marginalized veteran Udonis Haslem.
Haslem scored seven points in nearly 19 minutes, but he also earned a game-worst floor rating of minus-20. Perhaps the South Beach sun has set on the old vet.
Norris Cole provided a significant spark off the bench, and his on-ball defense received special praise from Jeff Van Gundy in an ESPN replay breakdown. He served as the primary factor in holding down Stephenson, who had threatened to single-handedly send Miami back home with a pair of losses.
Cole also added 11 points, making him the team's third-highest scorer.
Chris Andersen couldn't get much offense going, but he made an impact on the boards and provided some much-needed physicality to Miami's frontcourt. He pestered Indy's bigs for 28 minutes and snatched 12 rebounds in the process.
That he scored just three points after 14 in Game 1 mattered little; grabbing eight more boards was much more important.
Ray Allen clanged the iron all but once before crunch time to finish with one three-pointer and four bricks. He added a steal, a block and four rebounds for good measure, and the rough shooting night just means he's due to sink a few in Game 3.
Shane Battier hit a three-pointer and played really pesky defense, because that's what he always does.
Key Pacers Grades
Paul George, Small Forward
Paul George missed 11 of his first 12 shots from the field and primarily drew either LeBron or Wade on defense in that span. He ended with 14 points thanks to a couple of treys and six trips to the foul line, but PG's shooting was a detriment to the offense.
George continued to distribute the ball well and netted six dimes after garnering seven in Game 1.
George also took a shot to the back of the head from Wade's knee, which caused his face to smack against the hardwood on a loose ball in the second half. He seemed stunned by the impact but finished the game.
Lance Stephenson, Shooting Guard
Stephenson scored 25 points, but it seemed more like 75. His combination of electric athleticism and explosive quickness threatened to topple the Heat, who struggled to find an answer for the vexing shooting guard. Then they found the answer: Norris Cole.
Midway through the third quarter, ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy proclaimed that Stephenson was "straight baller right now." After all, he's in a contract year, and it was one of his best games of the year, but the introduction of Cole's harassment on the ball to the equation was enough to slow down Lance and, consequently, the Pacers offense as well.
Sir Lancelot scored the final basket of the first half on a gorgeous tip-in from an inbounds pass with 0.1 remaining on the clock.
David West, Power Forward
Foul trouble limited West's impact in the first half. In the second half, he was hindered by an eye injury and briefly ran to the locker room for treatment during the fourth quarter. He returned a couple of minutes later, but his eye still looked swollen and irritated.
West simply never found a rhythm, and that unfortunately dovetailed with George's poor game. West finished on 10 points and six rebounds on a night they really needed his mid-range game.
Roy Hibbert, Center
Hibbert not only recorded his first double-double of the postseason, but he also reached double-digit rebounds for the first time since March 21. In fact, he nearly got that many just on the offensive glass, with eight of his 13 rebounds coming on that end.
However, on an evening when Indy labored for offense, Hibbert's 12 points were not enough.
George Hill, Point Guard
George Hill played effectively, but he did not connect on many assists. In fact, despite scoring 13 points and playing 40 minutes, he managed one lonely dime. His active hands produced three steals and helped disrupt Chalmers repeatedly.
Luis Scola plodded through a brutal third quarter, and it's hard to believe the Pacers parted with Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a first-round pick to get the veteran Argentine.
Incredibly, Rasual Butler offered the most bench production with six points.
C.J. Watson pulled in a few rebounds, but he could not find the cup and missed all four of his shots.
Ian Mahinmi has been playing more like sad Roy Hibbert lately, and the backup's six minutes on the court went completely unnoticed.
The series now heads back to the home of the two-time defending champions, and the Heat's play won't be nearly as fair-weather as the fans in the arena. However, both teams get plenty of time to rest up before Game 3 on Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. ET. Game 4 tips off in Miami 48 hours later.
The Pacers have to steal a road win to have any chance of claiming the series. They cannot win three in a row in the conference finals against Miami's Big Three. It's up to Indiana to make the game as scrappy as possible and dirty up the Heat's superstars. Wade and James imposed their will in the fourth quarter, erasing all of Indy's hard work to that point.
However, four of the Pacers seemed worse for wear by the end of Game 2, so the three days off had better be enough time for them to heal.