Miami’s LeBron James scored 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Monday’s Game 4 win against the Pacers. James and the Heat can close out the Eastern Conference Finals with a Game 5 win tonight. (Reuters)
MIAMI — One win away. One win from their special June place. One win from becoming the first team to appear in four consecutive NBA Finals since the Boston Celtics did it in it from 1984 to 1987.
Yes, work remains even after the Monday night 102-90 victory over the Indiana Pacers at AmericanAirlines Arena that pushed the Miami Heat to a 3-1 lead in these best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals.
But the momentum in this series is headed in only one direction as the teams return to the court for today’s 8:30 p.m. Game 5 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“Certainly, it was much more to how we want to play, and the start helped,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Guys were expending a lot of energy to get after it.”
Getting the fast start they had lacked in the series’ previous three games, reawakened by the graceful arc of successful Chris Bosh jumpers, the Heat created ample energy on a night sidelined center Chris Andersen was unable to provide his unique Birdman fervor.
“We played the game we wanted to play, from beginning to end, with the pressure and everything,” Bosh said.
With LeBron James scoring 32, Bosh adding 25 and Dwyane Wade 15, the Heat had more than enough offense on a night Pacers guard Lance Stephenson and Indiana center Roy Hibbert had negligible contributions, with one point over the first three periods, a Stephenson free throw with 4:34 left in the third.
“We understand the moment,” Wade said of being one victory from the Finals.
What the Heat did largely proved overwhelming.
“The best offensive team in the NBA, they’ve got great weapons,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “They’re very difficult to guard. We got to go home in Game 5 and protect our homecourt.”
Teams that lead a best-of-seven series 3-1 have gone on to win the series 96.4 percent of the time. The last time a team recovered from a 3-1 deficit was the 2006 Phoenix Suns against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Heat are 7-0 in series during their Big Three era when holding a 3-1 series lead.
The victory extended the Heat’s home playoff winning streak to 10, dating to last season’s NBA Finals, tying the franchise record set from 2010 to ‘11.
A Game 6, if necessary, would be Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena, where the Pacers are 1-8 in their last nine visits over the past two seasons.
The Pacers entered without a three-game playoff losing streak since the 2012 conference semifinals against the Heat, when they lost Games 4, 5 and 6. Now they have to win three in a row from the Heat to survive.
The Pacers entered 7-0 over the past two postseasons in games when trailing in a series, including 3-0 against the Heat.
The winner of this series plays in the NBA Finals against the winner of the Western Conference finals that the San Antonio Spurs led 2-1 going into Tuesday’s late game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Heat defeated the Spurs 4-3 in last season’s Finals for their second consecutive championship.
Spoelstra was forced to alter his lineup, with Andersen out with a thigh bruise sustained in Saturday’s Game 3.
“Those injuries are tricky,” Spoelstra said. “He wanted to fight through it, but his range of motion in his thigh isn’t great right now.”
In order to have Udonis Haslem as the first center off the bench, Spoelstra started Rashard Lewis at power forward in place of Haslem. It was Lewis’ first start since Jan. 10 and his first playoff start since May 29, 2010.
“Again, I loved his stat line,” Spoelstra said of Lewis. “I get a kick out of it … zeros all the way across the board, and he’s a plus 14.”
Lewis actually had three rebounds, but was scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting, the Heat nonetheless outscoring the Pacers by 14 when he was on the court during his 26 minutes.
The Heat went into the fourth quarter up 80-64, with James with 29 to that point, including a dramatic third-quarter 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer.