Pacers set up series decider with 91-77 win over Heat
Indiana rock Miami to keep alive hopes of a major upset with fight worthy of boxing ring and put more fancied rivals on the back foot
The Indiana Pacers staggered Miami with one more big punch, beating the Heat 91-77 to force a decisive game seven in their NBA Eastern Conference finals series and keep alive their hopes of a stunning upset.
Roy Hibbert did everything but pull out the boxing gloves in game six, finishing with 24 points and 11 rebounds, and continually contesting Miami's shots to help Indiana stave off elimination.
Paul George scored 28 points, had eight rebounds and five assists, and the Pacers held Miami to 36.1 per cent shooting as they booked a trip back to Miami for the decider.
"Myself and David [West], we throw ourselves in the fray, in the paint. We like to muck it up," Hibbert said. "Paul and myself, we wanted to make sure we got this for him as well. We didn't want this to be our last game."
After winning their first division crown in nine years, the Pacers are one win away from advancing to the NBA finals for only the second time in franchise history. They lost to the Lakers 4-2 in 2000. They have not played a decisive seventh game in the conference finals since losing to Chicago in 1998.
And amazingly, they have done it this time against the defending champions who many considered virtually invincible after winning 27 straight during the regular season, finishing with a franchise-record 66 wins and having won 23 of their last 24 road games before losing games four and six in Indianapolis.
But the Pacers have pushed four-time MVP LeBron James and his high-profile teammates to the brink of elimination by punching back, and game six followed a familiar storyline. The Pacers had a 53-33 rebounding advantage, outscored Miami 44-22 in the paint and limited Miami's shooters to 16 of 54, 29.6 per cent, from inside the arc.
James led the Heat with 29 points on 10-of-21 shooting. Nobody else scored more than 10.
How have the Pacers done it? With Hibbert controlling the inside after adding martial arts training to his off-season regiment. "Roy Hibbert is making extraordinary plays in the pocket, poise in the pocket we call it," coach Frank Vogel said. "He's getting paint catches and just having great poise, great reads. He's not ploughing over guys. He had a charge in game five, but has been under control."
It was everything an elimination game should be. The teams traded baskets and jabs, sometimes literally, and players ignored the bumps and bruises of yet another wrestling match that has made this tough-guy series compelling.
The Heat struggled, meanwhile, starting the game just three of 22 from inside the three-point line. Miami's Big Three - James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh - went just 14 of 40. Excluding James, Miami managed only 16 baskets - eight 3s and eight 2s.
For Miami, the stakes were so high that when James was called for an offensive foul midway through the fourth quarter, he lost his cool. James protested by running from one end of the court to the other, drawing a technical foul, and when Miami assistant coach David Fizdale showed his support, it drew another technical.
George Hill answered by making free throws and Hibbert followed that with a layup, ending any chance of Miami making a late comeback.
James said he was trying to avoid an ejection and wound up spending the last 66 seconds on the bench.
"Explain it? You seen it. It was total domination by the Pacers in the third," James said when asked what happened to his team. "They made a lot of shots, we didn't get too many stops and we missed some very easy shots."