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Pacers struggle with James in middle as Miami's offense heats up to put away Pacers 114-96

  • d9eb0764be780111330f6a706700afab.jpg

    Miami Heat's LeBron James, right, is defended by Indiana Pacers' Sam Young during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals in Indianapolis, Sunday, May 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Nam H. Huh)The Associated Press

  • 84e5bf6ebeb90211330f6a706700a785.jpg

    Miami Heat's Chris Bosh reacts after getting called for a foul against Indiana Pacers' Lance Stephenson during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals in Indianapolis, Sunday, May 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Nam H. Huh)The Associated Press

  • 8de277bbbe770111330f6a706700470a.jpg

    Miami Heat's LeBron James reacts during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals against the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis, Sunday, May 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Nam H. Huh)The Associated Press

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    Miami Heat's LeBron James reacts during the first half of Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals against the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis, Sunday, May 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Nam H. Huh)The Associated Press

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    Indiana Pacers' David West, top, puts up a shot against Miami Heat's Chris Andersen during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals in Indianapolis, Sunday, May 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)The Associated Press

The Indiana Pacers thought they had everything covered Sunday night.

Then, suddenly, Paul George found himself defending the post against LeBron James.

It didn't work out so well.

By moving James to the post, the Heat won the scoring battle in the paint, kept Indiana at arm's length and pulled away for a 114-96 victory and a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

"It's different for me," George said. "I've never really been in that position this year really, guarding guys on the post, so I've just got to learn how to make sure I use my tools and my weapons down there."

The Pacers and their sellout crowd expected a far better performance two nights after Indiana had pulled off a stunning upset at Miami to the tie best-of-seven series.

Fans, poised to party on the biggest sports weekend in Indy, wore blue and white shirts creating a checkered flag look in the stands just 5½ hours after the Indianapolis 500 was completed a few miles away. The raucous fans were noisy until the game started to get away from Indiana in the second quarter and never became much of a factor afterward.

Indiana had won its first six playoff home games, and fans were hoping the Pacers could continue the trend and head back to Miami with a two-game series lead.

Instead, Miami's adjustment changed everything.

David West led Indiana with 21 points and 10 rebounds, while Roy Hibbert had 20 points and 17 rebounds. Paul George finished with 13 points and eight assists, not nearly enough.

"If you're not perfect guarding them, they'll do what they did to us tonight," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "Sometimes when you are perfect with your coverages, they still find a way to make baskets. But we didn't have a great defensive night."

The move to the post was reminiscent of when the Los Angeles Lakers played Magic Johnson in the post in place of the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during the NBA Finals more than two decades ago.

And it worked just as well.

James rebounded from the two late turnovers that cost Miami in Game 2 by scoring 22 points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing out three assists. Hours after Dwyane Wade learned he would only be tagged with a flagrant foul from Game 2 and not a suspension, he finished with 18 points, eight assists and four rebounds. Chris Bosh added 15 points and three rebounds and all five Miami starters reached double figures.

The move allowed Miami to outscore Indiana 56-32 in the paint.

Perhaps that much should be expected from a team with this much scoring punch and that has won 23 of its last 24 on the road.

The other stuff, not so much.

Miami committed a playoff franchise-low one turnover in the first half and finished with only five. James finished with none.

The Heat shot 54.5 percent against a team that finished the regular season with the NBA's best defensive field goal percentage and also made 24 of 28 free throws. They matched the highest scoring output in a quarter during this season's playoffs with 34, broke the franchise playoff record for points in a half (70) and fell one point short of tying the third-highest point total in a playoff game in franchise history.

But the biggest difference between the first two games and Sunday night's rout was what James' work on the inside.

"It was something we wanted to get to just to help settle us and get into a more aggressive attack," coach Erik Spoelstra said of the decision to post up the 6-foot-8 James. "We wanted to be a little more aggressive, a little more committed to getting into the paint and seeing what would happen. LeBron was very committed and focused not to settle."

Now, with Game 4 scheduled for Tuesday, it's the Pacers turn to adjust.

"He (James) was in the post doing a lot of work, and I think we have to do a better job of helping Paul out," Hibbert said. "LeBron can't get five or six dribbles to get a post move. ... We have to make adjustments. He's obviously a low-post threat but we have to make adjustments."

Miami took advantage of a wild first quarter to build a 34-30 lead, then turned the game with James taking control in a 12-point second quarter.

He scored half of the points in an 8-2 run that gave the Heat what was then their biggest lead of the series, 42-32. A few minutes later, James did it again, making a 15-footer with 1.3 seconds left in the half to give Miami a 70-56 halftime lead and the franchise record.

"I made a conscious effort to get down in the post tonight, to put pressure on their defense," James said. "The coaching staff wanted me to be down there tonight, and my teammates allowed me to do that."

Indiana opened the second half looking more like the team that had given Miami fits in Games 1 and 2. The Pacers hit back-to-back 3-pointers and got a three-point play from George Hill. When Lance Stephenson followed that with 1 of 2 free throws, the lead had been cut to 74-67.

It didn't last.

Miami countered with a 9-4 run, extended the lead to 91-76 after three and made it 99-78 early in the fourth and Indiana never challenged again — with the 18-point margin matching Indiana's worst home loss of the season — even though James scored only four second-half points.

"We had to not play the score, play the lead, play the game," James said.

Notes: Miami's best scoring half before Sunday was a 68-point effort against Chicago on April 24, 2006. Miami's Chris Andersen has made 16 consecutive shots in the playoffs. ... Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh attended the game. Harbaugh drove the pace car at the Indy 500... The victory was Miami's first at Indiana this season. The Heat lost both regular-season games in Indy.