by Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY Sports
INDIANAPOLIS - Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is right: Story lines change quickly in the NBA playoffs.
After nearly 48 hours of questions about the Heat's lack of everything - offense, defense, size - against the Indiana Pacers, they unleashed an offensive fury against the league's best defensive team.
Miami put together its most complete effort of the Eastern Conference finals and pounded the Pacers 114-96 in Game 3 on Sunday.
The Heat's five starters scored in double-figures, led by forward LeBron James' 22. But the biggest performance - and maybe most surprising - came from forward Udonis Haslem, who scored a season-high 17 points on 8-for-9 shooting. Guard Dwyane Wade had 18 points, eight assists, four rebounds and two blocks, Chris Bosh added 15 points and guard Mario Chalmers had 14.
Miami's bench outscored Indiana's 28-16.
"What we talked about in the locker room was a team win," Spoelstra said. "We just tried to focus on the task of playing one possession at a time and trying to play those possessions well. We had a lot of contributions tonight, so it was a good step forward. But we know how competitive this series is. We already have to start putting this behind us and now start getting ready for the next challenge, the next battle in Game 4."
The Heat shot 54.5% from the field, held the Pacers to 39.7% and now lead the best-of-seven series 2-1, and Game 4 is Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT).
"If you're not perfect guarding them, they'll do what they did to us tonight," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "We didn't have a great defensive night. It wasn't horrible, as bad as the numbers looked. You have to credit Miami for playing a great basketball game."
The consternation over Miami's future after Game 2 was necessary. It had not played its best against the Pacers in the first two games - some of that Indiana's doing, some of it Miami's mistakes.
But the Heat delivered a powerful reminder they are the defending champions. Since losing to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Finals, Miami has developed into unflappable team. Not much worries the Heat, let alone a single loss.
"Basketball is an imperfect game. You're an imperfect human being. You're going to make mistakes, but more times than not, I like my chances," Wade told USA TODAY Sports. "So you can't get wrapped up in it. If you do, you wouldn't make it this far in the NBA."
Miami had the league's best road record this season, are now 5-0 on the road in the playoffs this season and have not lost two consecutive games since early January.
The Heat, like that, regained the home-court advantage they lost in Game 2.
Miami held forward Paul George to 13 points on 3-for-10 shooting. George had five turnovers, the same number the Heat had.
Roy Hibbert had a quiet 20 points (4-for-12 shooting) and 17 rebounds, and the Pacers didn't get much from anyone else other than David West (21 points) and George Hill (19).
Offense was the name of the game, and the Heat were hot from the start. They received strong offensive efforts from multiple players, and it was the best game the Big 3 have played against the Pacers.
Miami started out 9-for-11, Indiana 7-for-9 and the Heat led 22-19 with 5:23 left in the first quarter. James had just two of those points as the Heat tried to involve other players. Chris Bosh had eight quick points, and 10 in the quarter, including two three-pointers.
Haslem, who had three points total headed into Game 3, had 13 in the first half. James had 18, Bosh had 12 and Wade had 10.
Miami reserve forward Chris Andersen maintained his amazing shooting percentage. He made all four shots and now has converted on of 16 consecutive attempts since Game 5 against the Chicago Bulls.
The Heat took a 70-56 lead into halftime, and the biggest Heat lead previously was just five points in Game 1.
Miami's 70 first-half points set a franchise high for points in a half in the playoffs and were the most the Pacers have allowed in a half during this postseason.
The Heat shot 62.8% (27-for-43) from the field in the first two quarter and turned the ball over just once.
The Pacers shot 50% in the first half, and with their defense, normally that amounts to a Pacers advantage. Not in Game 3.
The Heat came into Game 3 with a slightly different game plan to open the paint near the basket. While Miami's offense often runs through Bosh early in the game, he took and made long shots early in the game, drawing center Roy Hibbert from his normal spot at the basket where he is one of the best rim protectors in the league.
Struggling with their three-point shot, the Heat also went to Udonis Haslem and his mid-range game to help spread the floor and he delivered.
With the Heat finding a sliver of daylight in the lane with Hibbert and David West worrying about Bosh and Haslem, James went to work in the low post and exploited his size and strength with George defending.
"I made a conscious effort to sit down int he post tonight (and) try to put pressure on the defense. Spo and the coaching staff wanted me to be down there tonight, and my teammates allowed me to do that."
James made 7-for-9 shots in the paint, including 3-for-4 in the restricted area.
"It wasn't something we saw against a very good defender. It was something we wanted to get to just to help settle us and get into a more aggressive attack," Spoelstra said. "We wanted to be a little more committed to a getting into the paint and seeing what would happen, and LeBron was very committed and focused to not settle."
Indiana, in general, doesn't double-team. That left George alone on James, and George's defensive help was sometimes late getting there.
"We have to do a better job of helping Paul," Hibbert said. "They really spread us out, so I wasn't able to get down there as much as possible. ... We have to make adjustments. He's obviously a low-post threat."
Miami looked unstoppable in the first half, but it is difficult to maintain that pace against Indiana. The Pacers put a dent in the Heat's lead early in the third quarter, cutting Miami's lead to 78-71. However, Miami finished the quarter on a 13-5 run and led 91-78 headed into the fourth quarter.
Ray Allen's three-pointer with 9:35 left in the fourth quarter made it 99-78 - Miami's biggest lead of the game - and was just too much for the Pacers to overcome. Shane Battier also hit his first three-pointer of the series, and it's not a secret how dangerous Miami is when its shooters are hitting shots.
And the story line has changed again, with all the pressure on the Pacers. They don't want to lose Game 4 and head to Miami down 3-1 for Game 5.
"We feel good where we are," West said. "We have to come out and make them a little more comfortable than they were tonight."