INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana staggered Miami with one more big punch Saturday night.
Now the Pacers have a fighting chance to pull off a stunning playoff upset.
Roy Hibbert did everything but pull out the boxing gloves in Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals, finishing with 24 points and 11 rebounds, and continually contesting Miami’s shots to help Indiana stave off elimination with an emphatic 91-77 victory over the defending champs.
Paul George scored 28 points, had eight rebounds and five assists, and the Pacers held Miami to 36.1 percent shooting as they booked a trip back to Miami for Game 7 on Monday night.
“Myself and David (West), we throw ourselves in the fray, in the paint. We like to muck it up,” Hibbert said. “Paul and myself, we wanted to make sure we got this for him as well. We didn’t want this to be our last game.”
Instead, after winning their first division crown since 2004, the Pacers are one win away from advancing to the NBA Finals for only the second time in franchise history. They lost to the Lakers 4-2 in 2000. They haven’t played a decisive seventh game in the conference finals since losing to Chicago in 1998.
And amazingly, they’ve done it this time against the defending champions who many considered virtually invincible after winning 27 straight during the regular season, finishing with a franchise-record 66 wins and having won 23 of their last 24 road games before losing Games 4 and 6 in Indianapolis.
But the Pacers have pushed four-time MVP LeBron James and his high-scoring, high-profile teammates to the brink of elimination by punching back, and Game 6 followed a familiar story line.
The Pacers had a 53-33 rebounding advantage, outscored Miami 44-22 in the paint and limited Miami’s shooters to 16 of 54, 29.6 percent, from inside the arc.
James led the Heat with 29 points on 10-of-21 shooting. Nobody else scored more than 10.
How have the Pacers done it? With Hibbert controlling the inside after adding MMA training to his offseason regiment.
“Roy Hibbert is making extraordinary plays in the pocket, poise in the pocket we call it,” coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s getting paint catches and just having great poise, great reads. He’s not plowing over guys. He had a charge in Game 5, but has been under control.”
It was everything an elimination game should be. The teams traded baskets and jabs, sometimes literally, and players ignored the bumps and bruises of yet another wrestling match that has made this tough-guy series compelling.
The Heat struggled, starting the game just 3 of 22 from inside the 3-point line. Miami’s Big Three – James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – went just 14 of 40.
With Chris “Birdman” Andersen suspended for the game because of a shoving incident with Indiana forward Tyler Hansbrough on Thursday, the Heat couldn’t keep up with Indiana’s big rebounders inside.