It was anyone's game until the fourth quarter. That's when Ray Allen happened.
The Miami Heat's sixth man scored 13 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter of Game 3, cashing in on all four of this three-pointers in the final frame. In the end, it was too much for the Indiana Pacers, and Miami took a 2-1 series lead after a 99-87 victory.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade scored more points, but Allen got his when it mattered the most.
The series is still in its early stages, but Miami has made a strong statement, stealing home-court advantage and all the momentum that comes with it. For the moment, this is Miami's series to lose.
That could change in the blink of an eye, though. The Pacers will look to tie things up before returning home for Game 5. If their stout defense returns to form, that's entirely within the realm of possibility.
The Pacers are down, but they aren't out—not by a long shot.
Seeds: Miami Heat, No. 2; Indiana Pacers, No. 1
Series: Heat lead 2-1
Schedule: Game 4, Monday, May 26, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN); Game 5, Wednesday, May 28, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN); Game 6*, Friday, May 30, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN); Game 7*, Sunday, June 1, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
*= if necessary
Key Storyline for Miami Heat
You pretty much know what you're going to get out of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade at this point. The question is who steps up as Miami's third option.
Thus far, Chris Bosh is not the answer. The big man has scored just nine points in each of Games 1, 2 and 3. He's yet to shoot better than 44 percent from the field in the series and is just 2-of-12 from beyond the three-point arc. Tellingly, he has as many personal fouls as he does rebounds.
After Game 3, Bosh insisted that the frustration wasn't getting to him, telling reporters:
Sometimes you get in foul trouble -- even if you don't agree with it. What's done is done. I just have to keep my head, and keep playing. I want to play better. I want to have great big games and all that stuff. Sometimes it just doesn't happen. You just have to lay in the weeds and wait for your turn.
Could Game 4 be Bosh's turn?
As Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald notes: "The offense Bosh was supposed to provide — spreading the floor with his three-point shooting — was picked up by Ray Allen (16 points, 4 of 4 on three-point shooting), Norris Cole (9 points, 1 of 2 from three) and even Dwyane Wade, who hit a pair of rare three-pointers."
Unless Bosh snaps out of it, the onus falls on Ray Allen and Co. After Allen's big Game 3, the Pacers will no doubt be a little more on the lookout. The 38-year-old sharpshooter can still do a lot of damage, and his ability to move without the ball in his hands means he's always lurking as a threat.
If Allen gets open looks, the Heat have their third option.
Key Storyline for Indiana Pacers
Indiana was able to control the pace for much of Game 3, getting out to an early lead and exploiting Miami's sloppiness with the ball. But the Pacers were unable to stifle several mini-runs at the end of quarters, ultimately allowing Miami to keep the lead within striking distance.
After Game 3, Pacers head coach Frank Vogel told reporters, "Tough loss for our guys. Thought we competed pretty well, came out of the gates really strong, got off to a good start and then didn't manage our foul trouble well and didn't manage picking up their defensive intensity well."
That defensive intensity disrupted Indiana's ability to execute, putting a stop to the strong interior scoring that started the game. Miami busted out some new tricks, including putting Rashard Lewis on David West—a tactic that all but took West out of the game.
So the big task for Indiana will be playing all 48 minutes, continuing to implement the game plan on both ends of the floor. Miami proved how dangerous it is when it keeps momentum alive, eventually overcoming a 15-point deficit and taking the lead in the third quarter.
The Pacers let their collective foot off the gas at several junctures, and that can't happen if they're to take Game 4.
Indiana's defense will continue to be the single most decisive factor in the series. The Pacers held Miami to just 38 points in the first half, but something changed in the third quarter. Miami became the aggressor.
The Pacers have the length, size and athleticism to make offense difficult for the Heat. But they have to employ a first-rate effort throughout the game, and that hasn't happened consistently in this series.
Indiana's offense simply isn't explosive enough to duplicate its Game 1 output, when the Pacers scored 107 points. That means they'll have to step up on the defensive end, keeping Miami's shooters under close watch and forcing James and Wade to beat them single-handedly.
The big difference-maker for Miami will be tempo. This is a team that thrives in the open floor, converting on the kind of transition buckets that ultimately put the Heat ahead for the first time on Saturday night.
Before Game 3, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra told his team they needed to "impose our identity."
In large part, that means getting out and running, a task that starts with forcing turnovers and missed shots. If Miami can keep the Pacers on their heels, it will be awfully hard to stop.
Key Matchup: Dwyane Wade vs. Lance Stephenson
It's hard to say who's having the better series, but Wade's team is the one in the lead. He is averaging 24.3 points on an incredibly efficient 62 percent shooting. He's picked up where he left off after dropping 28 on the Brooklyn Nets in Game 5 of the conference semifinals.
That means Lance Stephenson has his work cut out for him on the defensive end. He's yet to slow down Miami's second-best player, and that could make it virtually impossible for the Pacers to win this series. If all else fails, Indiana may have to start sending multiple defenders at Wade to force him away from his sweet spots.
Otherwise, Stephenson is having a pretty strong series in his own right. He's averaging 17.3 points, seven rebounds and 6.7 assists in the series. It's been a breakout season for Stephenson, but he may have to take his game to yet another level for his Pacers to have a legitimate shot.
Stephenson's importance has been magnified with Paul George coming up short in Games 2 and 3. After scoring 24 points in Game 1, George has been held to a combined 9-of-29 shooting performance in the subsequent two contests.
The Heat have all the momentum right now, and they'll be playing Game 4 at home. That should give them all the edge they need.
The Heat have the two best players in the series. They're the more consistent team. They have a variety of shooters to keep Indiana's defense off balance. There's just too much working in Miami's favor at this point.
There are also lingering questions about Indiana. Though this team seems to have recovered from its months-long identity crisis, it's by no means been dominant at any point in the postseason—save for a couple of particularly strong performances here and there.
Resilient as the Pacers have been through their struggles, they don't look like a team ready to dethrone the Miami Heat.
Prediction: Heat defeat Pacers, 95-87
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