PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference semifinals; Pacers lead 2-1.
The Indiana Pacers were steamrolling through the postseason before heading to Miami.
That’s a visit that has stopped a lot of teams in their tracks.
The Heat can assure themselves of at least one more game at home, where they haven’t lost in 10 weeks, and put an even bigger scare into the Pacers as the teams meet in Game 4 of their semifinal series.
“We’re going to have to play much better to beat this team here,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said after his team lost 94-87 in Miami on Monday.
The loss was the Pacers’ first in seven games this postseason—they set an NBA record by winning the first six by double digits—and cut their lead in this best-of-seven series to 2-1.
The victory was the Heat’s 17th straight at home, dating to a loss to Toronto on March 2.
“When you have 20,000 people chanting, ‘Let’s go Heat’, it has a tendency to give you a little extra,” said Miami’s Lamar Odom, who scored 16 points.
“I also think that no matter how many five-star hotels you stay at, nothing is like your own bed, and no matter how many restaurants you go to, nothing is like Mama’s cooking.”
Monday’s loss also ended Indiana’s run of 11 straight wins over the Heat.
If the Pacers can halt Miami’s home win streak Wednesday, they will have a chance to wrap up the series Saturday in Indianapolis. Game 6, if necessary, would be at Miami next Tuesday.
“Our guys really feed off the electricity and energy in this building,” Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. “They not only feed off the fans, but they want to perform for them. If I could bottle it up and take it on the road with us I would.”
Many Indiana players said the team was not playing near its best basketball despite winning the first two games in relatively easy fashion. The Pacers’ substandard play carried over to Miami and cost them Game 3.
They were held below 39 percent from the field and outrebounded 43-35 by a smaller Heat team.
“Obviously when they get home they have more confidence,” Pacers forward Jonathan Bender said. “They got into it and they came out strong. Now we have to make this our house, play like we’re at home.”
Three months removed from being 10 games under .500 and out of the playoff picture, Miami has a chance to even this series against the team that finished the regular season with the NBA’s best record.
Indiana lost back-to-back games only three times all season.
“We knew we weren’t going to go undefeated,” said Pacers guard Reggie Miller, who took just two shots Monday after scoring 19 points in Game 2. “It was a matter of time. But we know we can play better. We haven’t played well in any of the first three games.”
O’Neal, third in this year’s MVP voting, scored 29 points Monday after averaging just 15 on 31 percent shooting (10-of-32) in the first two games. Artest, who scored 45 points in Games 1 and 2, went 4-of-18 from the field for 14 points in Game 3.
“They finally came to play,” Artest said. “Now we’ve got to come to play.”
Miami’s Dwyane Wade has come to play in every game of the series.
Wade, who finished third behind LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in Rookie of the Year balloting, has led his team in scoring in all three games, averaging 22 points. Fourteen of his 25 points Monday came in the fourth quarter.
“Dwyane has very little fear for a rookie,” Van Gundy said. “If the media could go back and do the Rookie of the Year voting after the playoffs, then they might change a little bit.”
It would help the Heat if Wade’s starting backcourt mate, Eddie Jones, could get going offensively. Jones, the team’s top scorer during the regular season, has totaled just 25 points in the series.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Pacers - Artest, 20.0 ppg; O’Neal, 8.4 rpg; Tinsley, 6.1 apg. Heat - Wade, 17.4 ppg and 5.4 apg; Grant, 9.1 rpg.