MIAMI -- No matter the billing, be it playoff preview, regular-season showdown, rivalry game, Wednesday night's Miami Heat-Indiana Pacers largely lived up to the hype in terms of intensity.
This was the type of passion the NBA rarely realizes before the playoffs, let alone before Christmas.
"This is the type of win we needed and we wanted," LeBron James said after the Heat rallied for a 97-94 victory.
The shame is the teams don't meet again until March and won't square off again at AmericanAirlines Arena until April.
"Every game against these guys is going to be a statement game," center Chris Bosh said, saying postgame what his teammates declined to say pregame.
With the victory, one achieved after falling behind by 15 in the third quarter, the Heat moved within one game of the Pacers, who have made the No. 1 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference their ultimate prize, a goal the Heat largely have downplayed.
But you wouldn't have known that based on Wednesday's frantic finish, one in which coach Erik Spoelstra cobbled together a lineup that featured centers Bosh and Chris Andersen and no point guard, with James effectively playing as the facilitator.
"I was encouraged by our ability just to stay focused and show resolve," Spoelstra said. "A lot of times against this opponent it has to be like that, where it's not smooth."
In the end the Heat got enough from James, Wade and Bosh to realize they still have three aces in the hole.
Wade led the Heat with 32 points, with James adding 24 and Bosh 15.
The irony is that after spending months working his knees back into shape, Wade took the offensive initiative, with James dealing with a sprained left ankle that left his status uncertain until an hour before tip-off.
"I just wanted to be aggressive early on," Wade said. "It just lasted the entire game.
"This is the best I've felt. I just want to keep it up."
Asked how his ankle felt when it was over, James said, "about a seven, a little sore right now. I just couldn't see myself sitting out.
"I'm actually kind of sad we don't play them for three months. The past eight days have been fun."
The Pacers weren't buying James being physical off.
"You guys buy into the hype of him being hurt and all that other stuff," Indiana power forward David West said. "We don't believe that."
The Heat not only fell behind by 15 in the third quarter, but trailed with eight with 3:52 to play.
Asked what spoke to him most about the comeback, Spoelstra said, "The resolve, just to focus on that next possession, focus on what you can control."
This time, foul trouble largely took Pacers center Roy Hibbert and his imposing frame out of the mix. But with Pacers forwards Paul George and West scoring 25 and 23 points, respectively, Indiana nearly had enough to hang on, especially with the Heat dealing with their own foul issues.
"About halfway through that first quarter, there was nothing that went according to that game plan," Spoelstra said with a smile.
The Pacers exited feeling the moment.
"It's frustrating, just period," George said. "A loss is frustrating, especially when you lose like this and you're in control the whole game and you let it slip away, regardless of who's the opponent."
Down 90-82, the Heat made a move with a 3-point play from Wade to draw within 90-85. Later, a breakaway dunk in transition by Wade moved the Heat within 92-89 with 2:43 to play.
George then was off with a jumper against Wade's defense, but Wade missed a jumper of his own on the other end with 1:53 to play.
And that's when Bosh, who had missed his previous 15 3-point attempts converted from beyond the arc with 1:30 to play.
"The one thing I wanted to do was not hesitate," Bosh said. "I felt I hesitated the previous shots."
A Ray Allen 3-pointer followed to put the Heat up 95-92 with 59.2 seconds left.
"Obviously those two threes were very big," Spoelstra said. "Ray did what he's done so many times in those big moments."
Or, as Wade said, "Everyone in the building knew that was going down."
West then drew a foul on Bosh and converted both free throws to draw Indiana within 95-94.
The Heat then got a missed jumper from Andersen, with a rebound scramble resulting in the ball going out of bounds and leading to a video replay with 25 seconds left, putting the Pacers in possession.
But the Pacers then got an errant pass from point guard George Hill, with James coming up with the steal. A pair of Allen free throws closed out the scoring.
"We're a grind team," Wade said. "People think because we live in Miami and have recognizable players, we aren't. But we are."
Ultimately, this mattered plenty.
"Our message tonight was that we're here to compete and it's going to be hard to take from us what we have," Bosh said. "This was one of the best, if not the best, win this year."
After falling behind by those 15 points in the third quarter, the Heat went into the fourth within 76-71, thanks to a booming dunk and ensuing free throw for a 3-point play by James that was preceded by 3-pointers by teammates Norris Cole and Rashard Lewis.
Down nine earlier in the third quarter, the Heat appeared to get a break when Hibbert was called for his fourth foul with 9:20 left in the period. But Bosh then missed both free throws and again was off on a shot off an offensive rebound. The Pacers followed with a George jumper to push their lead to 58-47.
But on the Heat's next possession, Hibbert was called for his fifth foul with 8:34 to play, on an aggressive move by Bosh.
After Bosh made his free throws, a West post-up basket against Shane Battier and a George 3-pointer had Indiana up 63-49, leading to a Heat timeout with 7:57 to play in the period.
West and George each scored 11 points in the third for Indiana, with the Pacers entering 18-0 this season when taking a lead into the fourth quarter.
It was an uneven first half for the Heat, with the Pacers taking a 52-41 lead into the intermission, with the Heat 0 for 8 on 3-pointers in the first half.
It also was a foul-filled first half, with James and Hibbert each forced to the bench with their third fouls in the second period.
With Shane Battier again offering little, and with Bosh saddled with two early fouls, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra turned to Udonis Haslem early in the second period. It was Haslem's first meaningful minutes since he played 26 in a Dec. 5 loss in Chicago.
Spoelstra's hand was somewhat forced, with forward Michael Beasley missing his sixth straight game with a strained left hamstring.
The Heat thought they also might be without James, who rolled his left ankle late in Monday's victory over the Utah Jazz and played through the injury.
Back in the starting lineup, James tested the ankle with a first-quarter dunk and had 12 points at halftime, with four of James' five first-half baskets coming in the paint.
Wade led the Heat with 14 first-half points, but needed 14 shots over the first two periods to reach that total.
It didn't help that the Heat shot 3 of 16 beyond the paint in the first half.
The Heat lost 90-84 a week ago in Indiana, in the first game of a four-game season series that now does not resume until March, with the Pacers not returning to AmericanAirlines Arena until April.
The Heat lost the previous meeting when none of the Heat's Big Three scored more than James' 17, the only time none had scored at least 20 in a Heat loss in their four seasons together.
The Pacers have now lost their last five regular-season visits.
The Pacers' newfound depth made a difference early, with Luis Scola, C.J. Watson and former Heat forward Rasual Butler, players who were not with Indiana last season, combining for 13 first-half points.
The game was the third on five-game homestand that continues Friday against the Sacramento Kings.
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