Basketball / Sports

Heat takes 2-1 series lead with 99-87 win over Pacers

MIAMI--The stakes were higher, the scenario the same. The Miami Heat had been here before.

So, of course, had Ray Allen, in so many of these big moments.

For the second time this season, the Heat overcame a 15-point deficit to defeat the Indiana Pacers, Saturday night's 99-87 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena, giving them a 2-1 lead in these best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.

The comeback was completed with Allen, savior of last season's NBA Finals victory, making all four of his fourth-quarter 3-pointers, his only 3-point attempts of the night.

"Our team is about moments," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, "and having those moments."

Ultimately, the moments belonged to the Heat's Allen, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who combined to outscore the Pacers 47-45 in the second half. The finishing kick allowed the Heat to match the second-largest playoff comeback in the franchise 26 seasons.

"We had no choice," Spoelstra said, "but to try to re-gather."

Ultimately, this was as much about Spoelstra as James scoring 26 points, Wade 23 and Allen 16, the only Heat players in double figures. It was about moving to pressure defense to get the pace more to their pleasing, getting quality defensive moments from Rashard Lewis against David West, again turning to Norris Cole to inject energy.

Through it all, the Heat now are two victories from a fourth consecutive NBA Finals, having won championships the past two seasons.

"You can't play around with this team," Pacers forward Paul George said. "I thought we got comfortable at one point."

Having rallied from a similar deficit in a Dec. 18 home victory over the Pacers, the Heat found a way on a night Heat center Chris Bosh struggled with foul trouble and an errant shot, before finally coming around late.

Having Allen helped.

"He's earned that reputation through years and years of doing it," Spoelstra said. "He's mentally tough and mentally stable."

As always, Allen did not shy from the moment.

"That's my territory," he said.

The Pacers countered with their typical balance, with George returning from Tuesday's Game 2 concussion to score 17 and guard Lance Stephenson turning in an aggressive early performance with 10 points and 11 rebounds, before being hounded into submission late by James.

The teams entered having alternated wins and losses in their previous 13 meetings, since the start of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals, with the Heat finally putting together a winning streak against the Pacers.

Asked if his team had resolve left after consecutive fourth-quarter closeouts by the Heat, Pacers coach Frank Vogel said, "A ton. It's very early in the series."

Stephenson wasn't as bold.

"They're playing great right now," he said. "We've just gotta have an answer for them."

The winner of Game 3 in a best-of-7 series tied 1-1 has gone on to win the series 76 percent of the time.

The Heat improved to 6-0 at home this postseason, now on a nine-game playoff home winning streak dating to last season's NBA Finals. The loss snapped the Pacers' five-game playoff road winning streak.

The winner of this series plays the winner of the Western Conference finals that the San Antonio Spurs lead 2-0 going into Sunday's road game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Heat defeated the Spurs 4-3 in last season's Finals, after Allen salvaged Game 6 with a dramatic 3-pointer.

For Wade, it was yet another step forward in this series, and another night of distancing himself from previous injury-limited postseasons.

"Dwyane is a young 32-year-old in the prime of his career," Bosh said. "I don't know why everybody acts like he's 47."

Then there was the supporting cast, with Lewis helping limit West to four points in the second half.

"I just wanted to limit his easy baskets," he said.

Wade 3-pointers to end the third period and start the fourth pushed the Heat to their first double-digit lead of the series at 74-64. Later, after George began to regain his stride, Allen converted his second 3-pointer to give the Heat an 87-79 lead with 5:58 to play.

The Pacers then closed within 76-74 with 8:37 left after Bosh was called for a technical foul and George made three free throws.

James returned during that stoppage after being treated for apparent cramps between periods, able to keep the Heat afloat amid Allen's accuracy. The four 3-pointers tied for the most Allen has made in a fourth quarter in the playoffs.

"It's extremely difficult to guard," Vogel said, "especially when you're playing big against them."

Allen welcomed Indiana again defending him with West.

"Whenever I see a big on me," he said, "I salivate."

Earlier, the Heat took their first lead of the night, at 52-51, on a James dunk with 7:36 to play in the third quarter, off a missed Stephenson layup. It was the Heat's seventh consecutive successful conversion from the field, later stretching that run to eight consecutive conversions.

The Heat then went into the fourth quarter up 71-64, their largest lead to that stage.

After falling behind by 15 in the second period, the Heat closed within 42-38 at halftime, ending the second quarter on a 16-5 rally that fed off a series of Pacers turnovers. The Pacers, in fact, managed only four shots over the final six minutes of the second period.

The teams combined for 31 baskets and 24 turnovers in the first half.

It was a brutal start for the Heat, who scored only two of their first 16 possessions, falling behind 19-5 before closing the opening period down 21-14, with seven turnovers in that first quarter.

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

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