MIAMI (AP) — The stat sheet from Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals told quite a story. It said Miami never trailed, that Indiana’s All-Star center failed to contribute a single point, that the night’s two leading scorers were wearing Heat uniforms and that the Pacers committed twice as many turnovers as they forced.
Paul George apparently saw something else.
“We outplayed them,” the Indiana star said, adding, “They won this game at the free-throw line.”
With that, the storyline surrounding this series went from revolving around something an Indiana player said to, well, revolving around something else an Indiana player said. Almost overlooked amid all the dramatics: For Miami, what would be a historic fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals is now just one win away.
LeBron James had 32 points and 10 rebounds, Chris Bosh added 25 points — nearly matching his output from the first three games of the series combined — and the Heat grabbed total control of the East title series by topping the Indiana Pacers 102-90 Monday night. The Heat lead the series 3-1, with Game 5 in Indianapolis on Wednesday night.
“I’m motivated enough to try to get back to the Finals,” James said. “That’s motivating enough.”
George scored 23 points and David West finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds for Indiana, which has dropped the last three games in the series. Other than those two stat lines, it was a largely forgettable night on the floor for the Pacers, and might have gotten worse off the floor.
—Lance Stephenson, who acknowledged that he was trying to get inside James’ head before Game 4 and said the four-time NBA MVP was showing a sign of “weakness” by engaging with him during games, was scoreless until the third quarter.
—Roy Hibbert went scoreless, the first time in 36 appearances against Miami that he’s failed to get a point, that donut coming after he averaged 18.3 points per game against the Heat in his last 15 matchups dating to last season.
—Pacers coach Frank Vogel got a technical foul in the third quarter, plus appeared to move toward Shane Battier as the Miami veteran took a 3-pointer from near the Indiana bench in the first quarter.
“We got outplayed by the Heat,” Vogel said. “I wasn’t disappointed in our fight. I was disappointed in the result.”
Then came the headline-grabber, when George arrived in the interview area and blamed the officiating for the Indiana loss. Miami was 30 of 34 from the line; Indiana was 11 of 17, something that got George to use words like “demoralizing” and “lopsided.”
“You can’t tell me we don’t attack the basket as much as they attack the basket,” George said. “You can’t tell me we’re not aggressive. Maybe we’re too aggressive. But I feel like we’re just as aggressive as they are attacking the basket and making plays at the rim. Maybe this was just home cooking.”
Not everyone in the Indiana locker room agreed.
“You can’t blame it on the refs,” veteran Luis Scola said, “when you lose by double digits.”
They could blame Bosh, because he was the one who got the two-time defending NBA champions going.
Bosh scored the game’s first eight points, making a pair of 3-pointers and ending a series-long funk. He had scored exactly nine points in each of the first three games of these East finals and was held under 10 points in each of his last seven playoff games against Indiana.
But he came out flying, and probably not coincidentally, the Heat finally had a good start.
“You always want to see your first shot go in, or the first couple of shots, or at least get some open looks and try to really change your luck a little bit,” Bosh said. “I was able to do that, and that helped me just be aggressive as the game went on. I kind of put the cerebral stuff to bed. I’m really not thinking too much anymore and just going out and playing.”
The Pacers trailed only 49-44 at halftime — even though Hibbert and Stephenson both had three fouls, the Heat didn’t have a turnover until the second quarter, Miami shot 10 more free throws in the half, and Bosh and James combined for 32 points in the first 24 minutes.
If there was any doubt, Miami erased it quickly after halftime. James scored five points in a 7-0 spurt to open the second half, and the Heat were on their way.
“They’re the best offensive team in the NBA,” Vogel said.
Miami outscored Indiana 31-20 in the third quarter and kept pulling away before the Pacers used a 15-3 run to make things rather interesting. Alas, way too little, way too late.
And now Miami is poised to oust Indiana for the third straight year.
Only the Celtics and Lakers franchises have been to the NBA Finals in four straight seasons. The Heat now have three chances to join that club, and would enjoy nothing more than getting there on Wednesday night.
“We try to get better every single day, every single game,” James said. “When you do that and go out and play the type of game that you are capable of playing, you can be satisfied with the results. And that’s what we’ve built over the years.”