LeBron James and the Heat struggled without Chris Bosh on the floor. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

Now, all of a sudden, the rest of the NBA is realizing just how vital the third member of Miami’s “Big Three” is to the team’s championship aspirations.

After the Indiana Pacers edged the Heat 78-75 in Miami on Tuesday night, the team many thought would coast to a second straight NBA Finals has glaring deficiencies that could make this second-round series much more interesting.

With Bosh sidelined with a strained abdominal muscle, Indiana center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West helped the Pacers out-rebound their hosts 50-40 and limit Miami to 34.6 percent shooting. And if Miami’s best post presence continues to miss time, expect the Pacers to continue to exploit the Heat’s soft spot on the interior.

“Defense and rebounding,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said after the win. “We built this team, we started talking about smash-mouth basketball, about winning the war in the trenches, and that’s with defense and rebounding. That’s what I grew up watching Eastern Conference basketball being like. We understand offense is going to come and go, especially like a great defensive team like these guys ... but we’re pretty good, too.”

Indiana didn’t help itself offensively in the first half, missing 24 of 29 shots during one stretch and committing 17 turnovers on the night. And the Pacers could have pulled away in the second half — instead they let the Heat rally from an 11-point deficit. But James helped the Pacers hold on by missing three free throws in the final minute, and Wade missed a layup with 16 seconds left that would have tied the game.

The Heat could have used Bosh’s 14.7 points and 6.8 rebounds. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

The Heat’s defensive effort kept the game close, and much of the credit goes to James who bodied up with the bigger West on the block and explosive scorer Danny Granger on the perimeter. But with no timetable for Bosh’s return, the Heat know they need more balanced production up and down the roster.

“It’s very important,” Mario Chalmers told the Miami Herald. “It’s [14.7] points per game in the playoffs. One of us has to step up for sure. That’s something we’re working on, and we’re going to get to next game for sure.”

After the loss, Spoelstra declared “this series has started.” It certainly has — and suddenly the Pacers have the upper hand and home-court advantage.

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