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INDIANAPOLIS — There was nothing soft about Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat.
Wade scored 41 points, LeBron James chipped in 28 and the Heat finished off the Indiana Pacers, locking up a return trip to the Eastern Conference finals with a 105-93 victory in Game 6 on Thursday night.
The Heat wrapped up the best-of-7 series and will face either Boston or Philadelphia in the next round starting in Miami on Monday. Of course, nothing less than an NBA title will make for a satisfying summer in South Beach.
Two series down, two to go.
The Heat rallied from an early 11-point deficit, riding the hot hand of Wade in the opening half. He scored 26 points by the break, tying Tim Hardaway’s 16-year-old franchise record for most playoff points in the first two quarters. James hit consecutive baskets with just over a minute remaining to close it out.
Next up, the Celtics or surprising 76ers. The Heat will get a much-needed chance to relax before worrying about the next opponent, which will be determined in a Game 7 at Boston on Saturday.
David West led Indiana with 24 points and all five starters were in double figures. But that balance was overwhelmed by Wade and James.
In a game of spurts, the decisive one came in the closing minutes of the third quarter, the Heat powering out their third straight impressive win after falling behind 2-1 in the series.
The Pacers tied it at 66 on Darren Collison’s 3-pointer, but it was all Heat the rest of the period. They closed on a 13-3 run, capped by Mario Chalmers’ buzzer-beating 3 from the corner. Wade, who was on the bench getting his customary breather at the end of the quarter, leaped from his seat as the ball left Chalmers’ hand at the far end, raced along the baseline and pumped his fist when it swished.
As Chalmers raced toward the Miami bench, Wade greeted him near the free throw line with a low-five.
For the most part, D-Wade did his best work while in the game.
He dropped 11-of-16 shooting on the Pacers in the first half, but also made sure the MVP stayed involved, dishing off a behind-the-back pass to James for a thunderous jam.
Indiana clamped down a bit on No. 3 the rest of the way, but he still managed perhaps his most jaw-dropping basket. Darting into the lane, he threw up a wild-looking, one-handed shot that looked like it might go over the backboard, only to catch the top of the glass and drop through, barely touching the twine.
There was none of the nastiness that marked Game 5, when a bunch of flagrant fouls resulted in suspensions for two Miami players, co-captain Udonis Haslem and backup center Dexter Pittman. Pacers president Larry Bird was so disgusted with his team’s performance that he accused them of going “soft.”
This time, it was merely a Miami team on a mission, a mission that began in the summer of 2010 when the Heat signed James and Chris Bosh to join with Wade in a seemingly unbeatable Big Three. There was a glitzy introduction and predictions of multiple championships, which left the rest of the league seething and plenty of people cheering when Miami was knocked off in the NBA finals by the Dallas Mavericks last season.
Shaking off that disappointment, James had perhaps his greatest season yet. But it was Wade who took control in the decisive game against the Pacers, delivering the final blow when he split West and George Hill, banking in the shot despite taking a knee from Hill that sent the Heat guard tumbling to the court.
The Pacers simply didn’t have enough to match the Heat, even with the Big Three down to the Big Two because of an injury to Bosh.