The Indiana Pacers looked like the better team for the first half of the critical Game 5 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Dwyane Wade looked tentative with the ball and threw up two air-balls, Chris Bosh was a non-factor offensively and LeBron James shied away from driving to the basket when Roy Hibbert was on the court. Mario Chalmers was the best player for the Heat in the first half, and Miami was fortunate to face a four-point deficit at intermission.
But with three minutes and 13 seconds left in the third quarter, James sunk a 3-pointer. Udonis Haslem made a baseline jumper a minute later. On Miami's subsequent two possessions, Haslem again got open looks at the baseline, and he nailed both. With 16 seconds left in the third, James found himself open from straightaway at the 3-point line. The ball hit nothing but nylon, and the Heat had a 14-point lead.
Miami held on in the fourth quarter to come away with a 90-79 win to take a 3-2 lead in the conference finals. In NBA playoff series tied at 2-2, the winner of Game 5 goes on to win the series 83 percent of the time. Miami will have its first chance to make a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals Saturday night in Indiana.
James finished with 30 points on 13-of-26 shooting from the field including 3-of-7 shooting from downtown, eight rebounds and six assists. Haslem shot 8-of-9 from the field for the second time in three games, earning a few extra minutes of playing time. Miami's offense looked so good in the third quarter because Haslem's baseline jumper emerged as a legitimate threat, punishing Indiana players for helping off of penetration. His highlight play came earlier in the third, when he drove for a vicious one-handed dunk.
Haslem and David West had a confrontation midway through the third quarter after West began talking to Chalmers during a dead-ball situation. Chalmers, Haslem and West were all called for technical fouls. Chris Andersen and Tyler Hansbrough had an altercation in the first half, and Andersen was charged with a flagrant foul for shoving the former UNC star. The NBA could conceivably suspend Andersen for Game 6, which would undoubtedly hurt Miami. Andersen didn't miss a shot tonight (again) and even hit an 18-foot jumper in the fourth quarter.
Tonight, Chalmers and Haslem buttressed James' 30-point night with double-digit scoring nights of their own. Miami may need more out of Wade and Bosh to come away with a clinching victory on the road, though. Wade didn't even attempt a shot in the third quarter and looked just as bad as he seemed at times in the series against Chicago. Nonetheless, Miami is in great position now to finish this series. Although Miami came back from a 3-2 deficit during last year's conference finals, it's important to recognize an outlier as an outlier. The Heat showed played at its zenith during the second half of tonight's game, and all Miami has to do is replicate that performance.