In a virtual “must-win” game for the Indiana Pacers, expectations were high for a competitive, well-played contest in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Memorial Day. However, the Pacers struggled from the outset, fell into an ever-deepening hole on the scoreboard, and the Miami Heat were far too strong in outlasting them for a 102-90 victory and a 3-1 series advantage.
The night began with a flourish, and it was a bit of an unlikely one for the Miami Heat. Big man Chris Bosh had struggled mightily on offense in the series, scoring only 9 points in each of the three games, but the All-Star started the game with a personal 8-0 run that included knocking down the first three shots (and two threes) of the game. From there, the Heat were off and running, and they never trailed in the quarter on the way to an 8-point lead after 12 minutes. Their early dominance included 10 points from Bosh and an 8-point, 3-rebound, 3-assist showing from LeBron James, but the Pacers were also painfully underwhelming on both ends in the early going.
Unfortunately for Indiana, the Chris Bosh show was just getting underway, as he picked up where he left off after a short rest to end the first quarter. Bosh finished the half with 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting, and to be honest, it felt as if the Heat were in full control throughout the half, especially when LeBron completed a 3-point play (giving him 15 points for the half) to give Miami a 10-point lead with less than a minute remaining. However, Indiana continued to scratch and claw, and despite some ugliness, the Pacers shot more than 51% in route to just a 5-point deficit at the break.
The Heat charged out of the gate with a 9-1 advantage to begin the second half, and after that barrage, Miami held a 13-point lead at 58-45 with more than eight minutes left in the third quarter. LeBron James was busy being the best player in the universe throughout the third quarter, and his circus three-pointer to give the Heat a 16-point lead with just over four minutes to play in the third seemingly put Miami in complete control. Indiana did rally back within 12 at one point in the third, but when LeBron went coast-to-coast for a dunk to lengthen the advantage back to 17 points before the scoreboard even flipped to the fourth quarter, the outlook was bleak for Indy.
With the Pacers trailing by 16 points and with only 12 minutes remaining, they likely had visions of a large-scale comeback victory, but that optimism didn’t last long. Miami point guard Norris Cole connected on a three-pointer with 9:37 remaining that gave the Heat a 20-point advantage, and the furious run that Indiana desperately needed only managed to bring them within ten points with less than four minutes left. From there, the Heat ramped the intensity back up to comparable levels, and Miami was never really challenged in route to the 12-point final margin.
In the first game since Pacers swingman Lance Stephenson famously challenged him, LeBron James was the best player on the court in this one by a wide margin. The four-time MVP finished with 32 points on 13-for-21 shooting, and his all-court game (10 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals) was also excellent throughout. The early contributions from Chris Bosh (who finished with 25 points and 6 rebounds) were also enormous, but it was James that dominated throughout, and Indiana certainly felt his wrath for 48 minutes.
The silver lining for Indiana is that they will return home for Game 5, but with a 3-1 deficit and zero in the way of momentum, it will be a tall task for the offensively-challenged Pacers to force the series back to Miami for a Game 6. There were several lessons in this game, but the fact that Indiana simply doesn’t have the “extra gear” that Miami possesses was a large takeaway, and LeBron James remains the one player in the NBA that shouldn’t be challenged to a duel.