National Basketball Association (NBA) champions Miami made it clear on Wednesday that they will not concede Eastern Conference supremacy to the Indiana Pacers without a fight.
LeBron James and the Heat outscored the Pacers 12-2 in the final three minutes to rally for a 97-94 victory in a duel between the East’s two top teams.
Ray Allen drained a go-ahead three-pointer with 59.5 seconds left to play as the Heat finally got some long-range shots to fall when it mattered.
The Heat, who came into the contest shooting 38.6 percent from three-point range, missed their first nine from beyond the arc before connecting on five of their last 12 attempts.
The Heat trailed by as many as 15 in the third, but Chris Bosh’s three-pointer knotted the score at 92-92 and Allen’s trey with just under a minute to play put Miami up 95-92. It was their first lead since the first quarter and they would not trail again.
Two free-throws by Indiana’s David West trimmed the deficit to 95-94 with 44.4 seconds to play, and Chris Anderson missed on Miami’s next possession.
The Pacers had the ball, but George Hill’s poor pass intended for Paul George was grabbed by James and after a Pacers foul, Allen added two free-throws for Miami.
George was off-target with a three-pointer that would have tied it up with four seconds remaining.
Dwyane Wade led the Heat with 32 points, while James, playing on a sore left ankle, added 24 and Bosh chipped in 15.
Miami downed the Pacers in an epic seven-game Eastern Conference finals battle last season en route to a second straight NBA crown.
Last week the Pacers, who lead the Eastern Conference with a record of 20-5, used a late surge to down the Heat in Indianapolis, and James acknowledged that despite the fact it is still relatively early in the season, the game had a playoff intensity.
“We want to protect home court,” said James, whose Heat improved to 19-6. “They protected their home court last week.”
The next time the teams will see each other is at the All-Star Game, where Indiana coach Frank Vogel will almost certainly be coaching an East team that will have many of his guys — as well as James, Wade and Chris Bosh — all sharing a locker room.
“I’m actually kind of sad we don’t play them for three months,” James said. “This is a really, really good thing, going against these guys. They bring out the best in us. We try to bring out the best in them. It was fun. It was fun these last eight days while it lasted, and now we can get on with the rest of our season.”
Both teams have 57 games left, and are separated by a game in the East.
In other play, it was:
‧ Houston 109, Chicago 94
‧ Clippers 108, New Orleans 95
‧ Dallas 105, Memphis 91
‧ Atlanta 124, Sacramento 107
‧ Boston 106, Detroit 107
‧ Brooklyn Nets 107, Washing-
‧ Phoenix 101, San Antonio 108
‧ Milwaukee 101, Knicks 107 (OT)
‧ Minnesota 120, Portland 109
‧ Orlando 82, Utah 86
‧ Toronto 102, Charlotte 104