INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — As the clock ticked down to a precious few seconds, LeBron James threw his right arm around Dwyane Wade’s neck and pulled his teammate close.
This was their moment. Together. The MVP and his superstar sidekick.
They silenced 18,000 frenzied fans, quieted armies of critics and tied a series just as it appeared to be slipping away from Miami.
The Heat’s season has been saved. James and Wade came to the rescue.
Showing why he’s world’s best all-around player, James scored 40 points and Wade bounced back from an atrocious performance to add 30 as Miami, playing with desperation and without All-Star forward Chris Bosh, rallied for a 101-93 win over the Indiana Pacers on Sunday in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“They understand with one of our big components out, they have to step up big.” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the James-Wade tag team. “They were tremendous with their force and their will.”
James was beyond a force.
He added 18 rebounds, nine assists — several of them to set up Wade for easy buckets — and only left the floor for four minutes as the Heat avoided falling into a 3-1 hole. According to Elias Sports Bureau, James is only the second player to post that stat line in a playoff game, joining Elgin Baylor who did it in 1961.
“I felt like I had to do whatever it took for us to win,” James said.
Wade’s will was undeniable.
After scoring just five points in Game 3, when he also had an ugly sideline confrontation with Spoelstra, Wade scored 22 points in the second half, making eight straight shots at one point. He added nine rebounds, six assists and ended speculation that he was seriously injured.
In a breathtaking third quarter for the duo, James and Wade scored 14 points apiece to bring the Heat back from a 10-point deficit. They combined to score 38 consecutive points during a stretch bridging the third and fourth quarters.
They were unstoppable.
“That third quarter was amazing,” said Heat forward Shane Battier. “You get so caught up in playing the game that you don’t realize what the numbers are that they are putting up. It was a special performance.”
The Heat needed it, and head home for Tuesday’s Game 5 at AmericanAirlines Arena. Game 6 will be back in Indiana on Thursday.
“Me and ‘Bron had it going,” Wade said. “We played off of each other very well. We both were aggressive at the same time. That’s beautiful basketball for the Miami Heat when we play that way.”
Udonis Haslem, playing with a large bandage covering a nasty cut over his right eye that required nine stitches, added 14 points for Miami.
Danny Granger scored 20 and Paul George 13 to lead the Pacers, who had the defending Eastern Conference champions on the ropes but couldn’t put them away. Center Roy Hibbert, so dominant at both ends in Game 3, had just 10 points and was in foul trouble in the second half.
Indiana coach Frank Vogel second-guessed his decision to keep Hibbert and David West on the bench for a long stretch after halftime. But it was the Pacers’ inability to slow down Wade and James that was the difference.
“You get the ball out of one of those guys’ hands and it gets to the other guys’,” he said. “It’s not like one superhero and a bunch of role guys. When they were off the ball they hurt us just as much.”
For a while, the Heat’s season was slipping away.
The underrated Pacers built a 10-point lead in the third quarter, and with their crowd roaring like engines over at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, they were threatening to run away as they did in Game 3. But that’s when James and Wade took over.
James knew getting Wade’s confidence back would be a key, and he did so by threading passes to him for dunks and easy layups.
“LeBron had that look,” Battier said. “And when he has that look and Dwyane has that look, you want to run through a wall.”
Following his spat with Spoelstra, Wade took advantage of the two-day break between games to get away and clear his mind. He spent part of Friday in Bloomington, visiting with Tom Crean, his former college coach at Marquette now at Indiana.
Wade watched film of some of his games that Crean had prepared. The chance to mentally recharge was vital.
“The last two days have been mental,” Wade said. “It was great for me just getting away and to get that energy that I needed. I know I was struggling on the offensive end, but I didn’t want that to affect my overall game.”
Granger’s 3-pointer had given Indiana a 61-51 and the Pacers, outhustling the Heat to loose balls, appeared poised to take a commanding lead in the series.
But that’s when James and Wade put on their jaw-dropping, tag-team spectacle, combining for all but two points in a 25-5 run that put Miami up 76-66.
During one sequence, Wade lost his balance and fell and was lucky to push the ball toward James near the top of the key. As Wade scrambled to his feet, James alertly passed him the ball and he calmly knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Heat a 64-63 lead.
“D-Wade started to go and it started to turn,” James said.
NOTES: James, Wade and Haslem combined for 53 of Miami’s 55 second-half points. … During pregame warmups, Miami F Juwan Howard and Pacers G Lance Stephenson exchanged words and had to be separated. In Game 3, Stephenson mocked James by flashing a choke sign after a missed foul shot and Howard confronted the Indiana reserve. Pacers assistant coach Brian Shaw stepped between the players. … Granger was slapped with his second technical in two games after getting in Wade’s face late in the second quarter. … 85-year-old Carl Erskine, who pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1948-59, performed the national anthem on harmonica.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.