Indianapolis (AFP) — Evan Turner came off the bench to score the go-ahead basket with 90 seconds left as the Indiana Pacers edged out reigning league champs Miami 84-83 to clinch the Central Division title.
Turner came into the game as a replacement for Lance Stephenson who was ejected earlier in the National Basketball Association contest in front of a crowd of 18,165 at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse arena.
The physical contest between the Eastern Conference powerhouses featured a couple of ejections, including Indiana’s Stephenson who was thrown out after receiving a second technical foul in the fourth quarter when he walked up to Miami guard Dwyane Wade and said something.
That left the Pacers were without their starting point guard for the final five minutes of the game.
“I am a very emotional and physical player. I let my teammates down,” Stephenson said. “We knew this game was going to be physical.”
Chris Bosh had a chance to win the game, but his shot at the buzzer missed the mark for Miami, who have lost five of their last nine games.
“It was a team win, it wasn’t just one or two guys. It was a team win and we stuck with it,” Turner said.
Paul George finished with 23 points and eight rebounds, Roy Hibbert had 21, and Stephenson tallied 15 for the Pacers who lost game seven to the Heat in last year’s league semi-final playoff series.
LeBron James paced the Miami attack with 38 points, eight rebounds, and five assists. James also committed six of Miami’s 19 turnovers.
The Pacers won the division title for the second straight season. They came into the game averaging 97.8 points per game and this was their sixth win in their last nine contests. They now own a league best 33-4 record at home, where they have won four straight.
Hibbert was left bloodied by a James’ elbow to the mouth in the fourth. The hit left Hibbert woozy as the trainers took him to the dressing room to get checked out.
Hibbert returned following a brief visit to the locker room and got his revenge soon after when he split a pair of free throws to make it a three-point game, which helped spark Indiana’s fourth-quarter rally.
Miami led 45-44 at the half and by three, 68-65, at the end of the third.
“This is the champions we beat. It’s one game. But this is one step closer to playing good basketball to end this year up,” said Pacer George.
Bosh blamed the Pacers for the rough play and said the officials missed some calls.
“Our guys are getting punched in face and clothes-lined. We get an offensive foul called. I don’t feel they (Pacers) were going for the ball,” said Bosh.
Said James, “It is very frustrating. If I can jump in the air and elbow someone in the face and still finish the play, then I have to be a kung fu master or something.”
This was the first of three straight games on the road for Miami, who next travel to Detroit and Milwaukee.
The game marked the return of Wade to their lineup after he missed the two previous games with a sore knee. Wade shot six-of-11 from the field and finished with 15 points. Like James, he had a half dozen turnovers.
The Heat also played without Ray Allen, who was out with a virus.
Indiana has won two of three games this season with the Heat, including a 90-84 victory in their first meeting. Miami won the other contest, 97-94, on December 18 at home.
©afp.com / Andy Lyons
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