The Miami Heat are just one win away from dispatching the Indiana Pacers and advancing to the NBA Finals, but Game 6 will be in hostile territory for the defending champs.
The Eastern Conference finals return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse Saturday night. The Pacers are 7-1 at home this postseason, but the Heat knocked off Indiana in Game 3 and are 5-1 on the road during these playoffs.
"It's tough to win a playoff game, period. I think the closeout game is always the toughest," said NBA MVP LeBron James. "You add you're on the road, you're out of your comfort, and it makes it a little tougher. But for us it's a challenge. It's another challenge that we thrive on and we like, and we'll just try to take advantage of it."
James was flat-out amazing in Thursday's second half of Game 5. With the Pacers up four at the half, James was seen giving a rousing speech to his team. He backed up his words with 16 points in the decisive third quarter, which the Heat won 30-13, en route to a 90-79 victory.
"I kind of just went back to my Cleveland days at that point and just said, 'Hey, let's try to make more plays and be more of a scoring threat as well,'" James said after the game.
He finished with a game-high 30 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
James had to do more, thanks in large part to the ineffective play of his fellow members of the Big Three.
Dwyane Wade, hobbled by knee problems, scored 10 points and only took eight shots.
"I have to come in and I have to do what I can every day and every night to help my team win," Wade said on Friday. "The little things throughout the game - defensively at times, rebound, timely baskets, timely opportunities. That's what I've been doing. That's what I continue to do."
Chris Bosh, who has been consistently outplayed by Indiana's Roy Hibbert throughout this series, managed seven points and five rebounds.
On Saturday, the Heat will be without one of its key bench players as Chris Andersen, aka "The Birdman", was suspended for Game 6. He instigated an incident in Game 5 with Indiana's Tyler Hansbrough and shoved Hansbrough after the two went face-to-face.
The Pacers played very well until the third quarter. They couldn't stop James and couldn't score.
One problem for the Pacers in the second half was that they couldn't get Hibbert in the mix. Hibbert had 14 points over the first 24 minutes, then only eight in the final 24.
"We got a little out of sync in the second half, no question about it," said Indiana head coach Frank Vogel. "Was trying to get our guards involved and trying to keep Paul George in the pick-and-rolls. The ball didn't find him. They did a good job."
George finished with 27 points and 11 rebounds, while David West netted 17 points.
The starting backcourt of George Hill and Lance Stephenson was dreadful on Thursday. Hill had one point, four assists and three turnovers, while Stephenson, who scored 20 points in Indiana's Game 4 win, finished with four points.
Despite the poor performance of his backcourt, and the fact that James was unstoppable in the third quarter, Vogel is confident.
"Understanding we didn't play to our best, which I believe, with our backs against the wall, we will, and being back at home," Vogel said when asked why he's "bullish" on forcing a Game 7. "It's not everything, but it's a small factor. Really, the backs-against-the-wall mentality and a clear-as-day blueprint of all the things that I know we can do better. I know with a fact that we can do better."
If they do, Game 7 will be Monday night back in Miami.
If the Heat prevail, Game 1 of the NBA Finals will be in South Beach on Thursday against the San Antonio Spurs.