Dwyane Wade and LeBron James turned around a season on the brink with perhaps the most remarkable week of their high-powered partnership, capped off by a 105-93 victory in Game 6 Thursday night that sent the Heat back to the Eastern Conference finals.
Wade scored 41 points, James had 28 and Miami wrapped up the series 4-2, advancing to face either Boston or Philadelphia.
But this was about more than one game.
This was a dazzling trilogy, Wade and James taking control when the Heat were down and looked like they might be out.
"In the regular season, we've had some good games," Wade said. "But I don't know if we've ever had three in a row like that in the playoffs."
Seven days earlier, Miami trailed 2-1 in the series after getting routed 94-75 in Indianapolis. The fired-up Pacers had another game on their home court and a chance to build a commanding lead.
Instead, the Big Three-Turned-Two took over.
With Chris Bosh sidelined by an abdominal injury, James and Wade soared to new heights in their two-man game. Over the course of three dazzling games, James scored 98 points, grabbed 34 rebounds and dished out 24 assists. Wade had 99 points, 22 rebounds and 11 assists.
"Ever since Game 3, they've played at such a high level," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. "I don't know if anybody can beat them."
Next up, either the Celtics or 76ers in a series that starts Monday in Miami. Of course, nothing less than an NBA title will make for a satisfying summer in South Beach.
Two series down, two to go.
The Heat rallied from an early 11-point deficit, riding the hot hand of Wade in the opening half. He scored 26 points by the break, tying Tim Hardaway's 16-year-old franchise record for most playoff points in the first two quarters. James hit consecutive baskets with just over a minute remaining to close it out.
"We understand that when Chris went out, we had to step up," Wade said. "The team looked to us to lead."
The banged-up Heat will get a chance to relax a couple of days before worrying about the next opponent, which will be determined in Game 7 at Boston on Saturday.
Bosh hopes to return at some point, but it might not matter.
Not the way Wade and James are playing.
"Chris Bosh is an awesome basketball player, but when he goes down, that just means more touches for LeBron and Wade," Vogel said. "That's not exactly an advantage."
David West led Indiana with 24 points and all five starters were in double figures. But that balance was overwhelmed by Wade and James.
In a game of spurts, the decisive one came in the closing minutes of the third quarter.
The Pacers tied it at 66 on Darren Collison's 3-pointer, but it was all Heat the rest of the period. They closed on a 13-3 run, capped by Mario Chalmers' buzzer-beating 3 from the corner. Wade, who was on the bench getting his customary breather at the end of the quarter, leaped from his seat as the ball left Chalmers' hand at the far end, raced along the baseline and pumped his fist when it swished.
When Chalmers raced toward the Miami bench, Wade greeted him near the free throw line with a low-five.
"We just had a bad stretch," West said. "They got us in the third quarter."
Cheerleading aside, D-Wade did his best work while in the game. He dropped 11-of-16 shooting on the Pacers in the first half, but also made sure the MVP stayed involved, dishing off a behind-the-back pass to James for a thunderous jam.
"They're too good. They capitalize on your mistakes," West said. "We were too loose with the ball. They pressure you all over the place."
Indiana clamped down a bit on Wade after halftime, but he still managed perhaps his most jaw-dropping basket. Darting into the lane, he threw up a wild-looking, one-handed shot that looked like it might go over the backboard, only to catch the top of the glass and drop through, barely touching the twine.
There was none of the nastiness that marked Game 5, when a bunch of flagrant fouls resulted in suspensions for two Miami players, co-captain Udonis Haslem and backup centre Dexter Pittman. Pacers president Larry Bird was so disgusted with his team's performance in a 115-83 loss that he accused them of going "soft."
Toughness wasn't the problem this time. This was merely a Miami team on a mission, a mission that began in the summer of 2010 when the Heat signed James and Bosh to join Wade in a seemingly unbeatable trio. There was a glitzy introduction and predictions of multiple championships, which left the rest of the league seething and plenty of people cheering when Miami was knocked off in the NBA finals by the Dallas Mavericks last season.
Shaking off that disappointment, James had perhaps his greatest season yet. But it was Wade who took control in the decisive game against the Pacers, delivering one final blow when he split West and George Hill, banking in the shot despite taking a knee from Hill that sent the Heat guard tumbling to the court.
"We just didn't have enough yet," Vogel said, "but we'll be back."
Chalmers finished with 15 points, while Mike Miller stepped up to provide some quality minutes, scoring 12 points on four 3-pointers to help fill the void without Haslem, Pittman and Bosh.
When Miller wasn't in the game, he stretched out along the baseline to cope with his various aches and pains, more comfortable that way than sitting in a chair. When coach Erik Spoelstra called his number, Miller summoned several of his teammates to help lift him up.
"He might be the toughest guy on the team," Wade said.
The Pacers started out like they were intent on sending the series back to Miami for a decisive game that surely would have had all of South Florida on edge.
West knocked down a short jumper right off the tip, Danny Granger stuffed one off a fast break, and the Pacers had their yellow-clad fans in a tizzy when Granger connected on a 3-pointer to make it 13-3 before the game was 5 minutes old. Another basket by Granger, this one a turnaround jumper, gave the Pacers their biggest lead at 19-8.
But Miami wasn't going to roll over that easy. Miller made the first of his 3s in the closing seconds of the first quarter, and Wade took over from there. He started the period by banking in a 12-footer, then made another short jumper to leave the crowd stirring uneasily. Miller followed with another 3 — and just like that, it was all tied up.
Yet another 3 by Miller, this one a good 5 feet beyond the arc, gave Miami its biggest lead of the half, 41-35. Back came the Pacers, who went to the locker room with a 53-51 lead and hope of extending their season for at least one more game.
Turns out, they were down to their last half.
Notes: Indiana started 8-of-9 from the field, but went just 26-of-61 (43 per cent) the rest of the way. ... The Heat held the Pacers to an average of less than 40 points in the second half over the last three games. ... Miami had only 10 turnovers, its fewest in the series.
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