The Miami Heat grabbed a crucial Game 3 win Saturday night, knocking off the Indiana Pacers, 99-87, to take a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.
LeBron James (26 points, seven assists, five rebounds, four steals) and Dwyane Wade (23 points, three steals) led the way for Erik Spoelstra's team, but veteran Ray Allen dropped the hammer with four three-pointers in the final period to seal the win.
Indiana led by as many as 15 in the second quarter, but as NBA.com's John Schuhmann pointed out, the Heat went on an absolute rampage in the second half:
The Heat scored 61 points on 41 possessions (149 per 100) in the 2nd half.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) May 25, 2014
Bleacher Report's Ethan J. Skolnick put the win in historical perspective:
This will tie the Heat's second largest postseason comeback in franchise history.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) May 25, 2014
Miami turned swarming defense (17 turnovers for Indiana) into an unstoppable offense, shooting 54.4 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from beyond the arc.
The first half was defined by sloppy play—something that James actually foreshadowed when speaking with reporters following Miami's Game 2 win:
It's not going to be pretty. Not in the Eastern Conference. It's never pretty basketball in the Eastern Conference. It's about who can sustain runs. You know, who can get defensive stops? Who can not turn the ball over and who can get great shots?
Well, neither team could "not turn the ball over"—they combined for 23 giveaways in the first half—but the Pacers seemed to benefit.
Miami looked out of sync for most of the first quarter. Luis Scola had more points (eight) than James, Wade and Bosh (seven) combined after 16 minutes and the Pacers led 37-22 halfway through the second period.
Frank Vogel's team unraveled over the final six minutes of the half, though, giving away the ball ad nauseum and hardly getting any looks at the basket, as NBA.com's Couper Moorhead noted:
Over the last six minutes of the second quarter, the Pacers took four shots.— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) May 25, 2014
The Heat trimmed the deficit to four by the time intermission rolled around, but as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out, it was the team's worst first-half performance of the entire season:
The 38 points for the Heat is their fewest in a 1st half all season (regular season and playoffs).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 25, 2014
Miami's strong play carried over into the third quarter, though. James and Wade combined for 22 points as the Heat outscored Indiana 33-22 in the period.
Schuhmann provided details on how Miami's defense led to the offensive outburst:
Heat defense added some pressure, Pacers didn't handle it well, & that led to 33 points on just 22 possessions for MIA.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) May 25, 2014
With Bosh and Udonis Haslem in foul trouble, and Mario Chalmers not making a major impact, Heat head coach Eric Spoelstra had to rely upon his bench more. Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick applauded the head coach's adjustments:
The Heat bench has combined for 81 minutes already. Spoelstra's really had to coach this game. And what he's done has worked so far.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) May 25, 2014
Spoelstra's moves continued to pay off in the fourth quarter, as he moved to a small lineup with James at the 4 and Bosh at the 5. That helped free up space for Allen, who caught fire on his way to 13 fourth-quarter points.
His third trey of the quarter gave Miami its biggest lead, 11, at the 4:58 mark, continuing his recent trend of timely shooting, per NBA.com:
Make that now 8 of Ray Allen's 18 made 3's this postseason that have come in the 4th Quarter (3-of-3 so far tonight)— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) May 25, 2014
Allen added a fourth for good measure, as Miami coasted to the big win.
Indiana has looked competitive at times during all three games in this series—something that didn't seem possible a couple of weeks ago—but it has only resulted in one win.
In the last two games, the Heat have shown an ability to kick it into another gear, and if that continues, they are an easy bet to return to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight season.
The Pacers won't go down quietly, but Miami's second-half performance Saturday night suggested it will take something special to turn around this series.