MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James blamed one person after the Miami Heat let home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference finals slip from their hands.
Predictably, that was himself.
The league’s MVP had two turnovers in the final minute — both times on passes that were knocked away by David West — and they proved particularly costly for the defending NBA champions.
Roy Hibbert scored a postseason career-high 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and the Indiana Pacers evened the series at a game apiece with a 97-93 victory in Game 2 on Friday night.
“I made two mistakes tonight that hurt our team,” James said. “And that hurt more than anything. I let my teammates down. They expect me to make plays down the stretch and I had the ball with an opportunity to make a couple plays, and I came up short.
“That burns, but the best thing about it is, this isn’t college. It’s not one loss and you’re done. I have another opportunity to get better in Game 3.”
Game 1, Miami won it with James coming through with a layup at the end of overtime.
Game 2, the Pacers simply took away the MVP’s opportunity to take command in the final moments.
Paul George scored 22 points, George Hill added 18 and West finished with 13 for the Pacers, who handed the Heat just their fourth loss in their last 50 games, closed the game on a 13-5 run — and denied one of the game’s best playmakers in James twice in the final moments to finish it off.
“There’s only like one person that’s more scarier than that,” Hill said. “And that’s, you know, God.”
The series resumes with Game 3 on Sunday night in Indianapolis.
“It’s one of the best basketball games I’ve ever been a part of,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “It wasn’t about LeBron making mistakes down the stretch. He played one of the best basketball games I’ve ever seen anybody play. We were just able to make a couple plays late in the game.”
More specifically, West made a couple plays late in the game.
“These are two close, competitive games that can go either way,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We had our opportunities. Enough opportunities.”
With Indiana up 95-93, West intercepted a pass that James was throwing to Ray Allen with 43 seconds left. Indiana didn’t cash in that mistake, instead turning the ball over with a shot-clock violation.
So on the next Miami trip, West denied James — who led all scorers with 36 points — again.
James drove to the right block, spun and tried passing out toward the perimeter. West got his right hand on that pass, knocking it off-course and into the hands of Hill, then extended his hand skyward.
The Pacers — just as they did in the second-round series last year — knew they were winning Game 2 in Miami. Hill made two free throws with 8.3 seconds left to clinch it, and just like that, the series was tied.
“We’ve been able to maintain our composure throughout the year,” West said. “That’s helped us throughout these playoffs and especially in environments like these.”
The Heat got 17 points from Chris Bosh and 14 from Dwyane Wade. The Heat led 88-84 in the fourth quarter, only to let the lead, the game and the home-court edge slip away, and James had almost an expressionless look afterward.
“Nothing broke down,” Wade said. “He’s going to be hard on himself. He saw guys open, but West was able to get his arms out there at the last moment.”
Lance Stephenson scored 10 for the Pacers.
The Heat trailed for virtually all of the game’s first 30 minutes, then tied the game three times in the third quarter — but Indiana always had a response. When the game was tied at 60, the Pacers scored seven of the next 10 points. Tied at 67, George quickly had a layup to put the Pacers back on top. Tied at 69, George struck again, this time with a jumper.
With 5.1 seconds left in the third, George drove the lane and finished a highlight-reel dunk over Miami’s Chris Andersen while getting fouled, the free throw putting the Pacers up by five. James connected on a long 3-pointer to close the quarter, then he and George exchanged a few words afterward and slapped each other’s hand as if to say, “here we go.”
Sure enough, the show was just getting started.
“We had our chance tonight,” Bosh said.
Hibbert was creating one problem after another for Miami, so James took it upon himself to challenge him in the fourth. And with about 8 minutes left, he swatted a putback attempt away from the 7-foot-2 Indiana center, starting a play that ended with Mario Chalmers scoring at the other end to give Miami an 85-84 lead.
On the next possession, James tied up a rebound with Hibbert, then won the ensuing jump ball. Not long afterward, Bosh made a 3-pointer and Miami’s lead was up to 88-84 — its biggest of the night.
“We just didn’t finish the game like we’re capable of,” Spoelstra said.
Indiana scored the next five points to reclaim the lead. James’ three-point play with 3:32 left put the Heat on top 91-89, and Hibbert answered that with a jump hook over the reigning MVP to tie the game for the 10th time.
Frantic to the finish, again. And this time it went Indiana’s way.
“Heck of a basketball game, wasn’t it?” Vogel asked afterward.
If there was any remaining lament from losing Game 1 on the final play of overtime, the Pacers didn’t show it. They trailed for all of 15 seconds in the first half, and after neither team held a lead of more than seven in the series opener, Indiana found itself leading by 10 late in the first quarter and by 13 with a minute to go before intermission.
Hibbert was either unguarded or unguardable, making six of his eight shots in the first two quarters and getting to the line on the way to a 19-point half. West, Hill and George combined for 27 more before the break, and when Hibbert scored with 1:25 left the Pacers’ lead was 53-40.
The Heat needed less than a minute to erase more than half of that deficit.
James made a pair of free throws with 59.1 seconds left, Chalmers had a layup and Mike Miller — who hadn’t taken a shot since May 8, but checked in with 3:23 remaining in the half after Allen and Shane Battier continued to struggle from the outside — connected on a 3-pointer as time expired, pulling Miami within 53-47 at the break.
And when Indiana went up nine early in the third quarter, Miami responded with another burst, this time an 11-2 run highlighted by a spectacular reverse dunk by James and capped by two baskets from Wade, the last of which knotted the game at 60-all.
By then, it was clear.
Just like Game 1, this one wouldn’t be decided until the end.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Hibbert said. “We haven’t closed the series out. We won one game. A lot of us feel we should be up 2-0.”
NOTES: South Florida resident Jozy Altidore of the U.S. men’s national soccer team was among those in attendance, two days before he’s set to report to Cleveland and begin training camp for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. Other celebs in the crowd included newly retired football star and Miami Hurricanes great Ray Lewis, Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. and Rosie O’Donnell. … The Pacers were called for four technicals (one a defensive 3-second) in a 4-minute span of the second quarter. … Indiana reserve Sam Young sprained his left ankle in the third quarter. … Indiana was not planning to fly home after the game, instead staying in Miami one more night and avoiding getting back to Indianapolis around 4 a.m. or even later.