MIAMI — On the plane ride home from Indiana, Miami guard Dwyane Wade was watching a LeBron James highlight tape. It was otherwise known as Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Heat were still marveling Monday at James’ effort the previous day in Indiana, when the NBA’s reigning MVP had 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists — “video game-like,” was how Wade described it — to help his team knot its East series with the Pacers at two games apiece. Game 5 is Tuesday night in Miami, and the Heat know they probably can’t expect James to fill the box score that way again anytime soon.
After all, no one had done that in a playoff game since Elgin Baylor, 51 years ago.
But if nothing else, the home-court advantage is back with the Heat, who trailed by 10 points in the third quarter Sunday before the game — and maybe the series — swung Miami’s way, with James doing the conducting.
“You know what, I’ve played in this league for nine years and I’ve seen some amazing things,” Wade said. “But I’ve never really played with a guy where I’m amazed at some of the things he can do. I’m used to kind of not being the one being in awe sometimes. Some of the things he does, I’m like, ‘How did he just do that?'”
Those things James did Sunday — he played 44 minutes and grabbed nine rebounds in the fourth quarter alone, matching what anyone else on the floor did in the entirety of Game 4 — took a toll. As James finished shooting free throws on the Heat practice court Monday, he looked toward assistant coach Bob McAdoo and yawned. He walked around slowly. Then he yawned again.
So, LeBron, how were you feeling after Game 4?
“I don’t have any,” James deadpanned. “It’s definitely going to be a recovery and mental day for me.”
It was pretty much the same thinking Monday in Indianapolis, where the Pacers spent time before their flight to Miami lamenting that they wasted a chance to take command of the series, but at the same time finding some solace in the fact that they have already won once on the Heat home floor in these playoffs.
The Pacers lost by 35 in Miami in January, and have been outscored by a total of eight points in three games there since.
“We’re ready to go,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We still have a great deal of belief. They haven’t beaten our best.”
The Heat could say the same thing, after losing Games 2 and 3 without Chris Bosh, who is still rehabbing his strained abdominal muscle and will miss his fourth straight game Tuesday, with no return yet in sight. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said it’s “too early to tell” if Bosh could return later in this series.
But clearly, the Pacers saw the MVP’s best on Sunday.
James and Wade scored 38 consecutive Miami points in one stretch. A series with plenty of bravado to that point — Indiana’s Danny Granger has gotten technicals in three straight games, Pacers reserve Lance Stephenson riled the Heat by making choking signs that were captured by television cameras in Game 3 and Heat forward Juwan Howard approached Stephenson before Game 4 to let him know Miami didn’t appreciate the gesture — was taken over by a star.
Wade finished with 30 points and nine rebounds, a huge bounce-back effort after his disaster of a Game 3. Udonis Haslem scored 14 points and needed only six field-goal attempts to get there, then needed nine stitches to close a gash over his right eye.
Big games for both. Next to James’ line, they were practically afterthoughts. James scored or assisted on 62 of Miami’s 101 points.
“We had two days to prepare,” Howard said. “We had an opportunity to watch a lot of film and see some things as a team that we did wrong, what we could do to do better. Then I’m sure (James and Wade) had a chance to look at it individually … but you give us two days to prepare, two days to rest our bodies, then I’m not surprised by their performance.”
The Pacers did their part to help Miami’s comeback on Sunday.
Roy Hibbert finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, but the 7-foot-2 center also was slowed by foul trouble, as was forward David West. That, and Indiana’s defense slipped at the absolute worst time: The Pacers entered Sunday having allowed only nine 30-point games all season, but by day’s end, that list had 11 entries with James and Wade both getting there.
“I thought we’d been doing a good job,” West said. “Yesterday was the first time they got easy stuff. Wade got easy dunks, easy layups. LeBron the same thing. I thought up to that point they were scrapping and fighting for those … It’s just a lot of self-inflicted wounds that are correctable.”
If the Pacers are going to pull this series out, those corrections will need to come in Miami against a team that finished the regular season tied with San Antonio for the NBA’s best home mark.
“I think we’re really not worried about home-court advantage,” Granger said. “We’re a good road team, and we’re going to go down there and try to get the win.”
There was some consolation for Indiana in that it took phenomenal efforts from James and Wade for Miami to win by eight points in Game 4. A Heat team that scored 75 points in both Game 2 and Game 3 got nearly that many from two players Sunday.
The Pacers don’t expect that to happen again. Neither does James.
“All the great players, if they could do it every night, they would do it every night,” James said. “If you could have 40 and 20 and 10, you’d do it every night. But it’s not realistic.”
Still, it was the reality on Sunday. And that’s why Miami’s reality on Monday was that the reigning East champs need only to hold home court to advance.
“We expect their best and their best is good enough to win,” Wade said. “We’ve seen that. … It’s a big game — for both teams.”