Pacers 73, Heat 70
-- It wasn't easy, and it certainly wasn't pretty, but finally it was over. And quite fittingly, a game that saw two teams struggle to shoot 30 percent ended with an air ball. Rafer Alston's misfired three-point attempt sailed way wide and way short as time expired, providing ugly punctuation for an ugly game, and the Indiana Pacers finally could exhale.
They had prevailed in the most unfriendly confines of American Airlines Arena for the first time in this series, defeating the Miami Heat by a 73-70 margin Tuesday night to wrap up this Eastern Conference semifinal in six games.
The Pacers thus earned what most had assumed they would have claimed sometime last week: the right to face the winner of Thursday's New Jersey Nets-Detroit Pistons Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals. In the process, they ended Miami's home winning streak at 18 games, but not without taking some unusual measures.
Pacers Coach Rick Carlisle said he elected to switch baskets Tuesday, putting the Pacers' offense in front of him in the last half, for one reason only: So his players could hear him for a change.
"We did it," he said, "because of the building."
It was Indiana's first victory on Miami's home court, and it came just in time.
The Pacers, the conference's top-seeded team, won mostly because they did things less poorly than Miami and they didn't crack when the Heat surged into the lead late in the fourth quarter. Needing a victory to force a Game 7, Miami converted just 1 of 12 three-point shots and 25 of 82 (30.5 percent) field goals.
"Elimination games are always the hardest to win," Carlisle said. "When you hold a team to 30.5 percent shooting, you should win. When you outrebound a team by 11, you should win. But Miami found a way to keep it really close until the end."
A 12-2 run by Miami starting late in the third quarter allowed the Heat to take a one-point lead with just over eight minutes remaining on a running jumper by Dwyane Wade, who finished with a team-high 24 points and scored eight straight, bringing bedlam to the arena. Wade single-handedly turned the game around.
"I just told myself: 'We're down, it's time for me to step up,' " he said. "I tried to do it."
It wasn't enough. There was a block by Jermaine O'Neal of Caron Butler's dunk attempt with a minute left that preserved Indiana's four-point lead but left O'Neal with a throbbing left eye, thanks to a hand in the face from Butler. Wade came back with a spinning lay-in with 47 seconds left that brought Miami to within two. But a pair of steady free throws with 14 seconds left by the Pacers' Anthony Johnson -- who had scored no points to that point -- gave Indiana a four-point lead.
"I'm not disappointed in my players or in my team, I'm disappointed for them," Heat Coach Stan Van Gundy said. "I thought they battled extremely well. We just didn't play well enough offensively or make enough shots."
The Pacers took command after halftime, stretching a three-point lead to nine. During the period Ron Artest repeatedly took the ball to the basket, scoring both from the field and free throw line. By the end of the night, he had scored 27 points, including 10 of 15 from the free throw line. His effort countered an off night by O'Neal, who scored just seven points on 2-of-10 shooting.
"One guy on each team played really well," Van Gundy said, referring to Wade and Artest. "Everybody else struggled."
The Pacers made 22 of 68 field goals (32.4 percent) but they outrebounded Miami 53-42.
"In a game six it's going to be a defensive struggle," O'Neal said. "There are certain games like that, you just can't be the guy. . . . It's a tough atmosphere. We knew it would be tough coming in."
It was hard to determine what was uglier in the first half: the Pacers' 16-point first quarter or the Heat's 13-point second. Not that any part of the half, which Indiana led, 36-33, provided for good theater. It was so bad O'Neal had more fouls (three) than points (two) at halftime. For a while in the first quarter Artest had the same number of turnovers as points (four).