The Indiana Pacers wouldn't have been able to pull this game out last year. But this year, they are a different team, and even though the odds are firmly against them in game 7, the Heat have some problems that could prove to be decisive in the final game of the series.
Like the Heat in game 5, the Pacers came out hard in the third quarter and opened up a 17-point lead. A few careless plays to close out the quarter and a mini-run early in the fourth allowed the Heat to get back within 4, but then Paul George hit a big three, David West makes a dunk, and Lebron gets called for an offensive foul when challenging Hibbert at the rim. That led to two technicals (one on Lebron and the other on a Heat assistant coach). George Hill would make both free throws and Roy Hibbert would make another layup to put the Pacers up 13 and effectively ice the game. Final score: 91-77.
David West probably gets the game ball even though he shot just 5 of 14 for 11 points, but he was battling a respiratory infection and almost got yanked at half time after missing all 7 shots, including a point blank dunk. But the Pacers' rock battled back, sparked the Pacers' third quarter run, and hit the big stabilizing shots down the stretch to hold the Heat at bay. He's no Michael Jordan, but David West just had himself one heck of a flu game.
Paul George led the way with 28 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals, but he did have 6 turnovers. It's his second straight solid offensive game and he'll need a third one if the Pacers are going to have any chance in game 7. Roy Hibbert dominated again with 24 and 11, and George Hill bounced back strong with 16 and 6 assists. Lance Stephenson did not score a lot (4 points) but grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out 4 assists.
Lebron had his usual 29, 7 and 6, but D-Wade and Bosh combined for just 15 points on 4-19 shooting. In fact, only Norris Cole really did much apart from Lebron. Chris Andersen was suspended for game 6 because of that body check on Tyler Hansbrough on game 5 (followed by an escalating push) and Udonis Haslem never got the opportunity to hit those open baseline jumpers.
Looking ahead to game 7 in Miami, it's obvious that most people will pick the Heat, possibly in a blowout. That's understandable. This isn't the Lebron James that disappeared against Boston or choked against Dallas. This is the Lebron James that has been coming up huge time and time again since. So you'll be crazy to not expect Lebron to have a huge, potentially historic, game 7.
The Heat are also at home, where they are scary good, and the Pacers are on the road, where they have been inconsistent, to put it kindly. This Pacers team has also never been in a game 7, let alone in the conference finals. No team has won 2 games in a row in this series. Chris Andersen, who has not missed a shot in about 63 years, will be back. And it's hard to envisage another game where Lebron gets almost no support from his teammates.
But does that mean the Pacers have no chance? I'd like to think they do. They are still much bigger than the Heat and should dominate the rebounding (it was 53-33 tonight). They can definitely do better than the 18 turnovers they coughed up in this game. David West will get a couple more days to recover from his illness. Paul George and Roy Hibbert are in offensive grooves. George Hill looks ready for a high-pressure game 7. The X-factor is still Lance Stephenson. He's hobbling around everywhere all game so it's hard to tell how he is doing physically, but when he pushes the ball, rebounds the ball and looks for his teammates, Stephenson is a freaking Ferrari engine for this Pacers' team. Born Ready has got to be ready for game 7.
Even if the Pacers play up to the level they are capable of, they will still need some help from Miami to pull out the win. By that I mean they need Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to continue to struggle. No one really knows how they are doing. Wade could bounce back and have a huge game like he did against the Pacers last year, and Bosh could start hitting his 18 footers and three pointers. Or they could both get worse. If it is the latter then the Pacers have a great chance. Lebron has been carrying too much for quite a while now, and the Pacers have been beating him up all series. While there's no way he will buckle, the Pacers have to hope that they have battered and bruised him enough to "contain" him to, say, 30 points. If that happens and no one else steps up, then the Pacers are headed to the NBA Finals.