As if LeBron James weren’t enough to handle playing his usual game of driving and shooting from the perimeter, the Miami Heat star showed another facet of his arsenal in Sunday night’s victory over the Indiana Pacers.
James took his defender down into the low post and, following a couple of dribbles to move into position, softly banked in a shot, not with his usual right hand but with his left, the one he signs autographs with.
It’s not news James can score with his left. He used his left hand for the winning layup in Game 1. But this game he did it four times on soft little hooks to account for half of his eight field goals as the Heat regained command of the Eastern Conference finals with a 114-96 victory.
The Heat now lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 coming up Tuesday night in Indianapolis. A victory will put them within one win of advancing to the NBA Championship Finals slated to start June 6.
And, if they play the kind of game they did in Game 3, they should get that win.
For the first time since this series started with an overtime win over the Pacers in Miami last Wednesday, the Heat had more going for them than just James and his Big Three running mates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
In addition to the 55 points they accounted for, Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers came through in a big way. Haslem missed only one of his night field goal attempts on his way to 17 points and Chalmers missed only two of six for his 14 points. They had scored just 19 points between in the first two games combined.
Haslem’s contribution was especially vital. The threat he posed with his mid-range jumper kept the Pacers from collapsing on James, leaving Paul George with the nearly impossible task of stopping the league’s Most Valuable Player all by himself.
He wasn’t up to it.
Only he would know for sure, but the frustrations George had on defense just may have carried over to the offensive end of the court as well. After scoring 49 points in the two games in Miami, George managed only 13 on his return to Indy’s Bankers Life Fieldhouse. He did have eight assists.
In addition to the play of Haslem and Chalmers, the Heat continued to get remarkable contributions off the bench from Chris Andersen (nine points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots in 22 minutes). Andersen made all four of his field goal attempts and has yet to miss a shot this series (13-for-13).
And Ray Allen and Shane Battier showed signs they may be ready to shake the shooting slump that plagued them the first two games, when they were a combined 1-of-12 from 3-point range. Allen made two of his four attempts from behind the arc, Battier one of his four.
There remains much work to be done for the Heat, but their outlook looks much different now after their struggles to gain a split in their first two games at home.
“We had a lot of contributions tonight so it was a good step forward,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But we know how competitive this series is.
“We already have to start putting this behind us and now start getting ready for the next challenge, the next battle in Game 4.”