This series is going to Game 7. It didn't quite look that way in the first half when the Indiana Pacers blew numerous opportunities throughout the half that resulted in a 40-39 Miami lead, but this series is going to Game 7. The Pacers defense made life hard for the Heat inside in the first half despite their inability to cash in consistently on the offensive end. The Heat were able to take a first quarter lead hitting their first six three pointers in the quarter, and when things didn't pick up for Miami, it seemed a dead ringer for Game 5, when wasted opportunities led to LeBron James carrying his Heat on his back for the victory.
Things turned in Indiana's favor out of the break however when they they flipped the script on Game 5's third quarter on a deafening 21-4 run with the Heat uncharacteristically turning the ball over at every opportunity and the Pacers sticking it right in Miami's grill, shooting over 70% in the third. The Heat found life at the end of the quarter with four James free throws, using it to dig into Indiana's 17 point advantage, rattling off a 17-4 run including a pair of Mike Miller three pointers to trim the lead to four.
With the game and season in do or die mode for the Pacers, Paul George, who led Indiana with 28 points and eight rebounds, popped a key three pointer with five and a half minutes to go and the lead back to seven. It was the beginning of a defining 9-0 run, which included the biggest call of the game; an offensive whistle on James, driving on Roy Hibbert. James sprinted down the floor, resulting in one of two Miami technicals on the play.
The discussion may be dominated by James's foul, the offensive call and technical free throws as part of a six point swing that ballooned the lead to 13, but the NBA needs to make a greater emphasis to call the right foul, not the superstar foul. Hibbert has, in a way, earned that superstar respect on the defensive end, who had his own choice words to describe his defense after the game.
Indiana closed strong behind big second halves from George Hill, who rebounded from a terrible Game 5 with 16 points on 6-12 shooting including six assists. He and Lance Stephenson's play was the talking point regarding the Pacers winning and losing, and they were much better tonight. Hill found a way to get the ball into the basket, but it was Stephenson who helped give the backcourt a little extra edge.
Stephenson only had four points, but his activity with the ball opened up things as did his 12 rebounds. Stephenson's rebounding ability is a huge key for Indiana that can lead to them dominating the glass at a 53-33 advantage. The Heat may have been shorthanded without Chris Andersen, but it certainly didn't affect the rebounding much with fill-in Joel Anthony securing eight rebounds on the night.
LeBron James opened the game in can't miss mode, but as the game wore on, his short became a little less sure, and Paul George's defense helped make things a little more difficult for the league's MVP, and George responded with another big offensive game on the other end. George had 28 points and eight rebounds, albeit six turnovers, on 11-19 shooting with three three pointers. It's time for another big game from George in Game 7.
The Pacers will also need another big effort from Roy Hibbert, who's been nothing short of spectacular this series. Hibbert put up another 20/10 game, this time a tidy 24 & 12 on 11-20 shooting with five offensive boards. Hibbert's post game press conference will be a big part of the discussion, not mincing his words in any way when describing his defense.
As always, this series was not only dictated by Indiana's ability to flatten Miami on the glass or dominate the paint (a huge 44-22 advantage tonight), but in making sure Indiana's starting five won the battle with Miami's. Udonis Haslem went scoreless, chased off of his favorite spot while Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined for 4-19 shooting, Bosh scoring five and Wade with 10 as the team's second leading scorer.
Regardless of what might happen in Game 7, this series has lived well beyond its billing as far as a series go. The Pacers have not only made a go of it, but have arguably outplayed the Heat a majority of the series. For that to actually matter, they'll have to do it for 48 more minutes in a win or go home situation, but in the meantime, this is Miami's first double digit loss with LeBron James playing since...well, the last time the Pacers did it on February 1, just before Miami won 27 straight games.
Game 7, the decisive, ultimate Game 7, will tip off Monday night. On the line is a trip to the NBA Finals. They say anything can happen in a Game 7. LeBron James can define his greatness. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can remind people they're still NBA players. Or maybe the team-oriented Pacers lift an Eastern Conference Championship. It's must see basketball in the best series this postseason.