Published May 25, 2012
| Sports Network
Miami got knocked to the canvas by the Indiana Pacers in the East semifinals before responding like a champion.
The Heat are headed back to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight season after surviving an injury to Chris Bosh, an unprofessional outburst by Dwyane Wade during a Game 3 meltdown, and the suspensions of both Udonis Haslem and Dexter Pittman for the Game 6 clincher.
Miami, after falling behind 2-1 in the series, captured the last three games of the set behind spectacular play from both LeBron James and Wade, and will now be heavily favored against either Boston or Philadelphia with a chance to go back to the NBA Finals for the second consecutive year.
The Heat, of course, beat Chicago in last year's East finals but then lost to Dallas in six games, missing out on a chance to win the first of the "not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven" titles that James famously predicted after he took his talents to South Beach.
That kind of boasting and Wade's often immature antics on the floor have turned Miami into a villain at least on the national stage, but there's no denying what the two superstars accomplished in the final three games against a very talented Pacers team.
With their season on the brink, after getting routed in Indianapolis during Game 3, James and Wade turned it on like few ever have. Over the course of three brilliant contests, LeBron scored 98 points, pulled down 34 rebounds and dished out 24 assists. Wade, meanwhile, had 99 points, 22 boards and 11 assists. Both also served as lockdown defenders.
"We understand that when Chris went out, we had to step up," D-Wade said. "The team looked to us to lead."
And lead they did. In the clincher, a 105-93 Miami win, Wade scored 26 of his 41 points in the first half, shot 17 of 25 from the floor and James was 12- for-23. Wade added a team-high 10 rebounds and James led the Heat with seven assists.
"Wade and James going like they were going tonight, they're going to be tough to beat by anybody," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said.
The banged-up Heat will now watch Saturday's Game 7 between the Celtics and Sixers with the conference finals set to begin Monday in South Florida. Haslem will be back for Game 1 and Bosh still hopes to return from a strained abdominal muscle at some point, but that's all window dressing if James and Wade continue to perform at this level.
"Chris Bosh is an awesome basketball player, but when he goes down, that just means more touches for LeBron and Wade," Vogel said. "That's not exactly an advantage."
As the series dragged on Miami coach Erik Spoelstra seemed to figure things out, getting the ball to James and Wade with spacing in isolations, making them dual threats on each drive to the basket.
It became "pick your poison" for Indiana at that point. Watch LeBron and D-Wade finish at the rack or see a drive-and-kick mentality turn pedestrian players like Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller into legitimate weak-side threats.
"It was a competitive, hotly contested series and that's what it should be remembered for," Spoelstra said. "There were a lot of ups and downs, but the guys were able to tough it out."
All that said, playing like a champion for a week or two means little for this Heat team unless they actually go on to capture the crown. As long as James and Wade are playing together, it's championship or bust in Miami and anything short of an NBA title will always be considered a failure.
"I'm not sure who can beat them right now," Vogel said.
That's a sentiment echoed by many and it may be Miami's toughest hurdle of all -- expectation.
"This series brought out the best in both of them," Spoelstra said of his two stalwarts. "They knew they had to play an extremely high level for us to have a chance. They knew."
They also know they need eight more wins for any of this to matter.