Heat one victory from fourth consecutive NBA Finals
MIAMI -- One win away. One win from their special June place. One win from becoming the first team to appear in four consecutive NBA Finals since the Boston Celtics did it in it from 1984 to 1987.
Yes, work remains even after the Monday night 102-90 victory over the Indiana Pacers at AmericanAirlines Arena that pushed the Miami Heat to a 3-1 lead in these best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
But the momentum in this series is headed in only one direction as the teams head off for Wednesday's Game 5 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Getting the fast start they had lacked in the series' previous three games, reawakened by the graceful arc of successful Chris Bosh jumpers, the Heat created ample energy on a night sidelined center Chris Andersen was unable to provide his unique Birdman fervor.
With LeBron James scoring 32, Bosh adding 25 and Dwyane Wade 15, the Heat had more than enough offense on a night Pacers guard Lance Stephenson and Indiana center Roy Hibbert had negligible contributions, with one point over the first three periods, a Stephenson free throw with 4:34 left in the third. Stephenson's first basket of the night came with 5:32 left in the game, with the Pacers down 18. Hibbert did not score, missing all four of his shots.
Forward Paul George led the Pacers with 23 points, with Indiana forward David West adding 20 points and 12 rebounds.
The Heat pushed their lead to 23 in the fourth quarter, before a 13-1 Indiana run allowed them to close within 95-84 on a too-little, too-late rally.
Teams that lead a best-of-seven series 3-1 have gone on to win the series 96.4 percent of the time. The last time a team recovered from a 3-1 deficit was the 2006 Phoenix suns against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Heat are 7-0 in series during their Big Three era when holding a 3-1 series lead.
The victory extended the Heat's home playoff winning streak to 10, dating to last season's NBA Finals, tying the franchise record set from 2010 to '11.
A Game 6, if necessary, would be Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena, with the Pacers now 1-8 in their last nine visits over the past two seasons.
The Pacers entered without a three-game playoff losing streak since the 2012 conference semifinals against the Heat, when they lost Games 4, 5 and 6. Now they have to win three in a row from the Heat to survive.
The Pacers entered 7-0 over the past two postseasons in games when trailing in a series, including 3-0 against the Heat.
The winner of this series plays in the NBA Finals against the winner of the Western Conference finals that the San Antonio Spurs lead 2-1 going into Tuesday's road game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Heat defeated the Spurs 4-3 in last season's Finals for their second consecutive championship.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was forced to alter his lineup, with Andersen out with a thigh bruise sustained in Saturday's Game 3. In order to have Udonis Haslem as the first center off the bench, Spoelstra started Rashard Lewis at power forward in place of Haslem. It was Lewis' first start since Jan. 10 and his first playoff start since May 29, 2010.
The Heat went into the fourth quarter up 80-64, with James with 29 to that point, including a dramatic third-quarter 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer. Hibbert was forced to the bench with his fourth foul with 8:32 left in third period, with the Heat's lead cresting at 19 in the period.
Even with Stephenson and Hibbert forced to the bench with their third fouls in the second period, the Pacers still were able to trim an 11-point deficit midway through the period to 49-44 at the intermission.
The Pacers got a 3-pointer from George just before the second-quarter buzzer to make the deficit more manageable.
Bosh had 17 at the intermission for the Heat, and James 15.
The Heat finally got the first quarter they wanted, pushing their lead to 10 and ending the period up 27-19. Bosh opened 4 of 4 from the field and 2 of 2 from the line to spark the early surge.
The Pacers, who had led by at least eight points in the opening periods of the series' first three games, committed five turnovers in the first quarter to none for the Heat.
With a first-quarter free throw, Heat guard Ray Allen passed Bill Russell for 30th on the all-time NBA playoff scoring list.
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