Basketball / Sports

Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel talks to his players during the first half against the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Tuesday, May 20, 2014. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/MCT)

Heat's Cole embraces the stopper role

INDIANAPOLIS -- Miami Heat guard Norris Cole could sense the change.

There was less shimmy, less flare coming from Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson.

Everything Stephenson had done to ignite the crowd for three quarters Tuesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse was gone. No more posing for the crowd. No more glares at the Heat bench. No more chants of Stephenson's popular nickname, "Born Ready."

In a series full of lineup changes, the biggest move that kept the Heat from falling into a hole in the Eastern Conference finals was turning to their defensive stopper.

Cole held Stephenson to just two fourth-quarter points in the 87-83 victory, tying the best-of-7 series at 1.

"Norris is one of those guys who loves to play defense," guard Dwyane Wade said. "He did a great job on Lance, making it tough for him in the second half."

By the time Cole made the switch, Stephenson had already turned the game into his personal showcase. He scored 10 points in the third quarter. There was an alley-oop slam. A dunk down the lane after beating Wade off the dribble.

And a 3-point shot from 28 feet in Cole's face that put the Pacers ahead six, prompting the Heat to call a timeout. The flamboyant Stephenson strutted as he made his way back to the bench without knowing it would be his last meaningful basket.

From there, it was all Cole.

He played the entire fourth quarter instead of starter Mario Chalmers. The move was effective, with Stephenson going 1 of 3 from the field the remainder. He finished with 25 points.

"He's like a little bulldog," forward Udonis Haslem said of Cole's defense. "I love the way he gets up on the ball. I love the way he competes. He reminds me of myself except he's on the perimeter."

The Heat experimented with Cole on Stephenson a few possessions in Sunday's Game 1 loss. After Stephenson was having success, LeBron James suggested during a timeout it was time to switch.

"I mean, Norris is all about defense," James said.

Cole took away everything Stephenson was able to do against Wade, mainly the dribble-drive. The jumpshots Stephenson made earlier were eliminated by Cole's ability to prevent him from getting touches.

"He likes to dance a lot with the ball, and he's herky jerky with rhythm," Cole said. "My strength is on-ball defense. I'm one for taking a challenge. We felt we had the right matchup out there. We stayed with it. I was just trying to stay between him and the basket."

It was evident Cole had shaken Stephenson's confidence. Stephenson played fearless through three quarters, attacking Wade and James at every opportunity. With Cole unexpected to produce much offense, he was able to expend most of his energy at the defensive end.

"I could tell (Stephenson) was frustrated because he wasn't pushing the ball," Cole said. "I was trying to limit his catches. Every time he caught it, I was right there. On a guy like that, you have to be disciplined."

More importantly, Cole's defense allowed the Heat to shift their strategy. Wade was able to defend Paul George most of the fourth quarter while James neutralized Pacers point guard George Hill.

"That versatility that we have on our wings at that point, it helps a lot," James said.

The performance helped Cole forget about his struggles during the postseason. Before Tuesday, he was shooting just 38 percent from the field. He averaged 15 minutes in the conference semifinals against the Brooklyn Nets.

That led him to initiate a conversation with James that ended with Cole promising to play better.

"We had to," Cole said, referring to the role players. James averaged 30 points in the series against the Nets, including 49 in Game 4. "I'm sure he could carry a load like how he did that series but it would be better if he didn't have to score 50-point games like that. The bench, we hadn't been as productive last series as I thought we were in the first series. This series I told him I was going to step it up for him."

Cole responded by not just doing it on the defensive end. He also scored 11 points, including two 3-pointers.

"I kept shooting," Cole said. "The moment you lose your confidence in this game, you probably you should stop playing."

(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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