INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul George scored 23 points and Roy Hibbert had 21, leading the Indiana Pacers back from a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit for an 84-83 victory over the Miami Heat on Wednesday night.
The NBA’s best home team ended a two-game losing streak, took a 2-1 lead in the season series against the two-time defending champions and rebuilt a three-game advantage in the race for the Eastern Conference’s top seed. Indiana (52-20) also clinched its second straight Central Division crown, something it hadn’t done since 1998-99 and 1999-2000.
LeBron James scored 38 points, but Miami managed just one basket over the final 3:54.
Chris Bosh had a jumper at the buzzer to win it but it hit nothing but air.
George had two monster dunks — one over LeBron James — to get the Pacers back in the game.
It was a good, old-fashioned grudge match right down to the final shot — Bosh’s air ball from slightly to the right of the top of the key.
There were flagrant fouls and bodies flying. Lance Stephenson was ejected midway through the fourth quarter after picking up his second technical foul. And nobody had a rougher night, physically, than James.
He tripped in the first quarter and wound up dribbling the ball while sitting down. He got knocked to the ground and slid into the basket support late in the third quarter. He did a push up following another hard fall early in the fourth, and then got whacked across the face before shooting free throws. Before the game ended, James was called for a flagrant foul for an elbow on a layup, an elbow that landed squarely in the face of the 7-foot-2, 285- Hibbert.
The shot left Hibbert on the ground and stumbled when he tried to get up.
Plus, James had to contend with all those picks from Indiana’s All-Star center, too. And he wound up with six turnovers, including the one that led to an Evan Turner layup that gave Indiana the lead for good with 90 seconds to go.
The Pacers just refused to go down at home.
After trailing by as much as 68-61 in the final minute of the third quarter and by seven again early in the fourth, Indiana charged back — twice.
George started the first spurt by driving for the first of his two big dunks. Turner followed that with an 11-foot jumper and then George drove down the middle again, slamming the ball over the hand of the trailing James to pull Indiana within 70-69.
James answered with two free throws, and then drew the flagrant foul. Hibbert made 1 of 2 free throws and George finally tied the score at 72 with 6:58 to play.
Things were just getting started.
The Pacers retook the lead on a 7-foot jumper from Stephenson. But 64 seconds later after scoring on a driving layup to make it 76-72, Stephenson drew his second technical on the ensuing celebration.
The play gave Miami another chance. Dwayne Wade made 1 of 2 free throws and James knocked down a 3 on the ensuing possession to tie it again, and when James made a nifty pass to the cutting Wade for a dunk, Miami led again.
But the Pacers came right back.
Hibbert made 1 of 2 free throws to cut the lead to 80-77 with 3:08 to go, Turner scored on the layup following James’ sixth turnover and Turner drove in for another layup after yet another Miami turnover to make it 81-80. All Miami could muster after that was a 3 from Bosh with 2.9 seconds to go.