Miami 101, at Indiana 93 (Series tied, 2-2)
LeBron James had not played poorly in this series entering Sunday's game. Far from it. In the first three games, he averaged 27.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 3.3 steals. Those are incredible numbers for anyone else, but for LeBron, far and away the league's best player, they're fairly ordinary.
Offensive Ratings: Miami 112.7, Indiana 100.3
But against the Pacers, an excellent team that hasn't gotten its due as a legitimate title contender, ordinary LeBron isn't good enough. For the Heat to advance, he must raise his game to the next level.
Sunday, he did that.
LeBron had 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists--numbers that nobody has matched in a game, playoffs or regular season, since at least 1985-86. He also had two blocks and two steals in an amazing performance that lifted the Heat on both ends of the floor.
Dwyane Wade (30 points, nine rebounds, six assists and no turnovers) wasn't far behind once he got going after making a tough, end-of-shot-clock three-pointer late in the second quarter. Together, LeBron and Wade scored 38 straight Miami points during the second and third quarters.
When both were going, the Pacers had no answer. Not only were LeBron and Wade forces with the ball in their hands, they both moved well without it to create easy scoring looks on passes from the other. LeBron assisted four Wade baskets, and Wade assisted three of LeBron's.
Their 70 points is a new playoff high for the pair, passing the 67 points they scored in Game 5 against the Celtics last year, and ranks fifth among all their games. The 78 points they scored in an overtime win over the Trail Blazers last season still remains the duo's high.
Their scoring will draw most of the attention, but LeBron and Wade's rebounding was critical. LeBron (12) and Wade (eight) led Miami in defensive rebounds to help limit the Pacers to just eight offensive rebounds, a percentage of 19.5. That's the worst mark of the playoffs for Indiana, which ranked fifth in offensive rebounding percentage during the regular season.
The Pacers' rebounding problems were connected to their bigs' foul trouble. David West picked up his second foul fewer than five minutes into the game and went to the bench, and Roy Hibbert's fourth foul took him out of the game fewer than seven minutes into the second half. Both cases broke up Indiana's starting lineup, which has been excellent this postseason.
The Pacers' starters outscored Miami by five while playing together Sunday, but their 20 minutes were the fewest since a Game 1 loss to Miami. West (eight points, six rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes) will still likely cause trouble for Shane Battier going forward, and Hibbert (10 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in 32 minutes) is still a matchup nightmare for the Heat. Those two just need to stick on the court longer and play without the worry of committing fouls, and Indiana will look much better.
As great as LeBron and Wade were, the Heat won by just eight points. For LeBron to best this performance in Game 6, he might literally have to play the greatest playoff of the generation. And there's a decent chance Hibbert and West also revert to the mean and foul less in the next game.
Sunday's win puts the Heat in much better shape, but I'm not certain my assessment of the series after Game 3--that the Pacers are more likely to win it--has changed.
Dan Feldman is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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