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Published September 12, 2015
Miami is heading home with one gigantic headache: Roy Hibbert.
Forty-eight hours after figuring out how to contest the Indiana Pacers in the middle, Miami is back to square one. Hibbert finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds, helping the Pacers end the game on a 16-6 run to pull away for a 99-92 victory and even the Eastern Conference finals.
Four-time MVP LeBron James watched the end from the sideline after fouling out, then insisted it was no time for the defending champs to fret.
"We were able to come here and regain home court," James said after scoring 24 point on 8-of-18 shooting. "We feel good about that. It's a three-game series with two on our home floor, if needed."
Miami needs to get the one Thursday night. A loss would give Indiana a chance to eliminate the Heat with a win at home in Game 6 — not that anyone in South Florida is ready to ponder that possibility just yet.
But over three of the first four games in this best-of-seven series, Indiana and Hibbert have exposed a glaring problem in Miami's ability to defend the post.
Two nights earlier, the solution was to let James run the offense from the post.
On Tuesday, the Pacers adjusted by running multiple defenders at anyone that dared to test their middle. The result: Miami's three All-Stars were a combined 14 of 39 from the field, James fouled out of a playoff game for only the second time in his career and the Pacers outrebounded the Heat 49-30 and outscored them 50-32 in the paint.
"We can't afford to get beat on the glass by 20," said James, who wrote "Bella" on his shoes as a tribute to a 10-year-old girl who died recently from cancer. "It allows them to get second-chance points. Then they shot the ball from the field 50 percent. As a collective group, we can't allow that."
Especially against a desperate Pacers team that relentlessly attacked the basket, continually won the battle for loose balls, dominated the glass and, yes, turned the tables on Miami yet again.
"We're never going to give up. We're relentless," Hibbert said after another big game. "All those guys in there, they believe we can win. No matter what all the analysts or whoever says anything, they count us out, those guys in the locker room were ready to play and we went out and played our hearts out."
Hibbert will get no argument from coach Frank Vogel, who challenged his team to bring it or go down swinging.
Indiana scored with punch after punch.
The Pacers revved up the crowd with an opening 11-0 run, got the Heat in foul trouble and answered every challenge Miami posed in a physical game that had bodies flying, tempers flaring and James stunned after fouling out of a playoff game for only the second time in his career.
Indiana believed this was the only way it could get back into the best-of-seven series after giving home-court advantage back to Miami.
An angry Paul George uncharacteristically smacked the floor after being called for a foul in the third quarter, leading to a technical foul on Vogel that seemed to get Indiana refocused. The defense continually contested shots by James and his high-scoring teammates.
Now it's Miami's turn to adjust after a game of oddities.
Chris Bosh crashed to the court clutching his right knee after a first-half collision. In the second half, he limped to the locker room after appearing to twist his right ankle on a foul call but returned a few minutes later trying to shake off the injury.
Dwyane Wade limped noticeably during the first half and wound up in foul trouble, too.
Bosh finished with seven points, Wade with 16 and no Miami starter had more than six rebounds.
"We had them right where we wanted them, but every time we would get a stop, especially in the fourth quarter, we didn't come up with the rebound," Bosh said. "It was there for us, but we didn't capitalize."
Nobody was more frustrated than James, who was called for a technical foul in the first quarter and four fouls over the final 12 minutes — the last an offensive foul. After walking from one end of the court to the Miami bench, James sat disbelievingly on a press table and spent the final 56 seconds mumbling to the officials.
Miami had its chances, but Indiana would not back down.
When the Heat used a 9-0 run to take a 60-54 lead early in the third quarter, Indiana answered immediately with a 10-0 run to regain the lead. When James committed an offensive foul with 2 seconds left in the third quarter, his first turnover since the end of Game 2, the Pacers got a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Lance Stephenson to make it 77-70.
When the Heat rallied in the fourth, charging back from an 81-72 deficit to take an 86-83 lead, the Pacers answered again. George drew a foul on James and wound up tying the score on a three-point play with 5:38 to go.
Ray Allen broke the tie with a 3 from the left wing late in the shot clock, but Indiana answered again. This time, David West made 1 of 2 free throws, Stephenson knocked down a 19-footer, Hibbert scored on a putback and then completed a three-point play to end the 7-0 run that gave Indiana a 94-89 lead with 90 seconds left.
Miami never got another chance to tie it.
"I just felt the guys showed a lot of fight," West said. "We've got a group of guys on this team that are full of heart. A tough group, willing to step up to the challenge. We knew this was a make-or-break game for us."
Notes: West finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds. .. Indiana is now 3-1 against Miami at home this season and 7-1 at home in the playoffs. ... Two days after shooting 54.5 percent against the Pacers, Miami was just 30 of 77 for 39 percent. ... Katie Stam, the 2009 Miss America from Indiana, sang the National Anthem.