Miller scored 13 points and Artest 11 in the third period as the Indiana Pacers pulled away from the Heat, 104-81, for their 10th consecutive home victory.
Miller finished with 21 points and Artest 18 for the Pacers, who improved their league-best home mark to 17-1. Coupled with New Jersey’s loss at Philadelphia, the Pacers moved one game in front of the Nets for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
“Let me put it this way: We’re in first place in our division, and we’re now leading the conference with (New Jersey) losing tonight,” Miller said. “So this was really an important win for us.”
Jermaine O’Neal and Al Harrington added 13 points apiece for Indiana, which recorded its fifth straight victory and handed Miami a sixth loss in seven games. All six Heat losses have occurred on the road.
The Pacers scored the game’s first five points and led thereafter. After Miller dunked to begin the third quarter and give Indiana a 53-42 advantage, the Heat scored the game’s next seven points.
But Artest countered with three 3-pointers in a four-minute span, the final one giving the Pacers a 66-51 lead with 4:45 left in the quarter.
“They were just there,” Artest said of his shots from the arc. “They left me wide open, so I shot them. I drive a lot. I am not usually that wide open out there.”
Indiana led, 83-60, by the end of the period and extended its advantage to as many as 27 points in the final 12 minutes.
“It’s not about fatigue,” said Heat coach Pat Riley, whose team defeated Detroit in Miami on Tuesday. “Our guys came to play, wanted to play and were prepared to play. We just got our (butts) kicked.”
Rasual Butler paced Miami with 21 points but fellow rookie Caron Butler, who averaged 21 points over his previous four games, was shut down by the hawking defense of Artest as he was held to 0-of-7 shooting and just two points. It was the first time this season he was held without a basket.
“Ron had to be one of the defensive players, if not the best, defensive player in the league,” Miller said. “He played great (defense on Caron Butler). He’s so tough and physical, he reminds me of me with his aggressiveness.”
“I just fell (my right wrist) and after that, I couldn’t do anything with it, I couldn’t turn it over and I couldn’t go strong to my right,” Butler said. “Take nothing away from Ron Artest - he’s a great defender - but I just couldn’t do anything with my wrist tonight.”
Indiana shot 53 percent (38-of-72) and limited Miami to just under 40 percent (29-of-73). The Pacers are 9-0 this season when they make at least half their shots.
“Defensively, they are one of the best teams in the league,” Riley said. “We had a very difficult time running our offense.”
The Pacers also recorded 11 steals and turned the ball over just 10 times. It was the second straight game and the third time this season Indiana has had more steals than turnovers.
“I think this is what everyone hoped for,” Thomas said. “When you’re playing this well, this is what you work for and what you dream about. Give the guys credit, they’ve earned (it).”