INDIANAPOLIS — The open looks Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh took advantage of to help the Heat win Game 3 disappeared in Game 4, and so has Miami’s lead over Indiana in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Miami’s Erik Spoelstra won the coaching battle with the Pacers’ Frank Vogel in Game 3, using mobile post players Haslem and Bosh primarily as jump shooters to keep them away from the bigger, brawnier Roy Hibbert and David West.
Vogel countered Tuesday night with a simple adjustment: putting Hibbert and West in better position to step out and contest shots without sacrificing rebounding. And it worked, eliminating Miami’s normally excellent floor spacing and making the Heat’s offense appear unsettled.
Hibbert finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds to lead Indiana to a 99-92 victory that tied the series at two games apiece and helped the Pacers regain a little swagger heading into a pivotal Game 5 on Thursday night in Miami.
In Game 3, Haslem and Bosh combined to make 14 of 19 shots and score 32 points, mostly on jumpers. This time, they were 4 for 11 and combined for 13 points.
“We were a lot more attentive to it,” West said. “We had our antennas up. We didn’t allow them to space. We were there on catch a lot of times. That’s more of us just being locked in. We were just ourselves tonight.”
The Heat shot 39 percent and never found a consistent rhythm.
Indiana also re-established its dominance inside. The Pacers shot 50 percent, outrebounded the Heat 49-30 and outscored them 50-32 in the paint. They relentlessly attacked the basket, continually won the battle for loose balls, dominated the glass and turned the tables on Miami yet again.
Lance Stephenson added 20 points for the Pacers, who closed with a 16-6 run to pull away from the defending NBA champions.
“We’re never going to give up. We’re relentless,” Hibbert said after another big game. “All those guys in there, they believe we can win. No matter what all the analysts or whoever says anything, they count us out, those guys in the locker room were ready to play and we went out and played our hearts out.”
Hibbert will get no argument from Vogel, who challenged his team to bring it or go down swinging — and Indiana scored with punch after punch.
The Pacers revved up the crowd with an opening 11-0 run, got the Heat in foul trouble and answered every challenge Miami posed in a physical game that had bodies flying, tempers flaring and James stunned after fouling out of a playoff game for only the second time in his career.
Indiana believed this was the only way it could get back into the best-of-seven series after giving home-court advantage back to Miami two nights earlier.
The players promised to treat Game 4 as if they were playing a decisive seventh game, and it showed.
An angry Paul George uncharacteristically smacked the floor after being called for a foul in the third quarter, leading to a technical foul on Vogel that seemed to get Indiana refocused. The defense continually contested shots by James and his high-scoring teammates. The four-time MVP finished with 24 points but was only 8 of 18 from the field.
The Heat now face a stunning must-win scenario Thursday night. If they lose Game 5, they’ll return to Indy for Game 6 fighting for their playoff lives.
Over the next 48 hours, the Heat will try to figure out what went wrong in a game full of oddities.
Bosh crashed to the court clutching his right knee after a first-half collision. In the second half, he limped to the locker room after appearing to twist his right ankle on a foul call but returned a few minutes later trying to shake off the injury. Wade limped noticeably during the first half and wound up in foul trouble, too. Miami’s three All-Stars were a dismal 14 of 39 from the field.
Still, Miami nearly took command of the series.
“We had them right where we wanted them, but every time we would get a stop, especially in the fourth quarter, we didn’t come up with the rebound,” said Bosh. “It was there for us, but we didn’t capitalize.”
Nobody was more frustrated than James, who was called for a technical foul in the first quarter and four fouls over the final 12 minutes — the last an offensive foul. After walking from one end of the court to the Miami bench, James sat disbelievingly on a press table and spent the final 56 seconds mumbling to the officials.
Again he promised to make amends.
“It was a couple of fouls that I didn’t feel like were fouls, personal fouls on me, but that’s how the game goes sometimes,” James said.
Miami had its chances, but Indiana simply refused to back down.
When the Heat used a 9-0 run to take a 60-54 lead early in the third quarter, Indiana answered immediately with a 10-0 run to regain the lead. When James committed an offensive foul with 2 seconds left in the third, his first turnover since the end of Game 2, the Pacers got a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Stephenson to make it 77-70.
When the Heat rallied in the fourth, charging back from an 81-72 deficit to take an 86-83 lead, the Pacers answered again. George drew a foul on James and wound up tying the score on a three-point play with 5:38 to go.
Ray Allen broke the tie with a 3 from the left wing as the shot clock was winding down, but Indiana answered again. This time, West made 1 of 2 free throws, Stephenson knocked down a 19-footer, and Hibbert scored on a putback and then completed a three-point play to end the 7-0 run that gave Indiana a 94-89 lead with 90 seconds left.
Miami never got another chance to tie it.
“I just felt the guys showed a lot of fight,” West said. “We’ve got a group of guys on this team that are full of heart. A tough group, willing to step up to the challenge. We knew this was a make-or-break game for us.”
Notes: West finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds. ... Indiana is now 3-1 against Miami at home this season and 7-1 at home in the playoffs. ... Two days after shooting 54.5 percent against the Pacers, Miami was just 30 of 77. ... Katie Stam, the 2009 Miss America from Indiana, sang the National Anthem.