MIAMI – One win away. One win from their special June place. One win from becoming the first team to appear in four consecutive NBA Finals since the Boston Celtics did it in it from 1984 to 1987.
Yes, work remains even after Monday night’s 102-90 victory over the Indiana Pacers at AmericanAirlines Arena that pushed the Miami Heat to a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
But the momentum in this series is headed in only one direction as the teams head off for Wednesday’s Game 5 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“Certainly, it was much more to how we want to play, and the start helped,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Guys were expending a lot of energy to get after it.”
Getting the fast start they had lacked in the series’ previous three games, reawakened by the graceful arc of successful Chris Bosh jumpers, the Heat created ample energy on a night sidelined center Chris Andersen was unable to provide his unique Birdman fervor.
“We played the game we wanted to play, from beginning to end, with the pressure and everything,” Bosh said.
With LeBron James scoring 32, Bosh adding 25 and Dwyane Wade 15, the Heat had more than enough offense on a night Pacers guard Lance Stephenson and center Roy Hibbert had negligible contributions, with one point over the first three periods, a Stephenson free throw with 4:34 left in the third.
Stephenson’s first basket came with 5:32 left in the game, with the Pacers down 18. He finished with nine points.
Hibbert did not score, missing all four of his shots, his fourth scoreless game this postseason.
“He got some touch fouls that put him on the bench, and he didn’t get in a rhythm,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.
Said Hibbert of only getting four shots, “I can only control what I can control.”
The Pacers exited angered by the disparity at the foul line, where the Heat shot 30 of 34, the Pacers 11 of 17.
“Maybe this was just home cooking,” said forward Paul George, who led Indiana with 23 points. “Looking at the stat sheet, we outplayed them. I thought we outplayed them tonight.”
Forward David West, who added 20 points and 12 rebounds, agreed.
“I thought we were as aggressive as we’ve been,” he said.
Having spent the previous two days trying to spark verbal exchanges with James, Stephenson said, “I have no regrets. I can take the heat. I can take the fire.”
Vogel appreciated his team’s effort.
“I wasn’t disappointed in our fight,” he said. “I was disappointed in our result.”
Bosh’s early breakout triggered the Heat.
“The cool thing about it, his teammates were real aggressive to try to get him going,” said Spoelstra, with Bosh 7 of 12 from the field and 3 of 5 on 3-pointers.
Bosh said he felt a freedom after his early conversions.
“I think sometimes it’s all about simplifying everything and just getting back to the basics,” he said. “As a scorer, you always want to see your first shot go in.”
James, who added 10 rebounds, scored his points as a result of his aggression.
“I don’t know if I made a play call for him, maybe one post up,” Spoelstra said, “but the rest of it was in context of what we do.”
What the Heat did largely proved overwhelming.
“The best offensive team in the NBA, they’ve got great weapons,” Vogel said. “They’re very difficult to guard.
“We got to go home in Game 5 and protect our homecourt.”
The Heat pushed their lead to 23 in the fourth quarter, before a 13-1 Indiana run allowed them to close within 95-84 on a too-little, too-late rally.