LeBron James scored 30 points and the defending champion Miami Heat moved within one win of a return to the National Basketball Association finals with a 90-79 victory against the visiting Indiana Pacers.
Miami leads three games to two in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals and can finish off the Pacers in Game 6 tomorrow night at Indianapolis.
“It’s going to be tough to win and force a Game 7,” Indiana’s David West told reporters in the Pacers’ locker room. “We didn’t move the way we should have. We just didn’t play solid enough to beat this team.”
The series winner will play the San Antonio Spurs for the NBA championship. San Antonio won the Western Conference title, sweeping four games from the Memphis Grizzlies. The NBA Finals begin June 6.
“What I came here for was to compete for a championship every year,” James said in a news conference. “We’re one step away from being able to do it once again.”
Paul George had 27 points and Roy Hibbert added 22 for Indiana. The Pacers’ starting backcourt of George Hill and Lance Stephenson went 2-for-11 from the field and combined for five points. Indiana also hurt itself with 18 turnovers, eight more than Miami committed.
“We’ve got to force a Game 7, so we’ve got to toughen up,” Hibbert said in a news conference. “Our backs are against the wall right now.”
The Pacers led 44-40 at halftime and Hibbert opened the third period with a dunk to give Indiana a six-point margin. The Heat responded by outscoring the Pacers 30-11 the rest of the quarter, including a late 12-1 run that featured three straight baskets by Udonis Haslem.
Haslem scored 16 points, Mario Chalmers had 12 and Dwyane Wade added 10 points and six rebounds for Miami. Wade said the Heat got more focused in the second half.
“Coming into the locker room, we looked at each other and said we’ve got to play our game,” he said, referring to halftime. “We had to just look in the mirror and ask ourselves: ‘What do we want out of this season?’”