LeBron James, who earned his third league MVP award Saturday, finished with a game-high 32 points as star-studded Miami defeated Indiana 95-86 to take the opening game of their second round playoff series.
James, the game’s best player, has won the MVP award three out of the last four years and is chasing his first ever NBA championship.
“Defensively, we stepped up,” James said. “We know we had to get stops and that would give us a better chance to win.”
James also had 15 rebounds and five assists and guard Dwyane Wade had 29 points and four assists, while Chris Bosh added 13 points for the Heat, who also won three of four regular season games over the Pacers.
Forward David West and centre Roy Hibbert scored 17 points each for the much-improved Pacers, who finished off Orlando in five games Tuesday to advance past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
Heat forward Bosh suffered a lower abdominal strain shortly before halftime at AmericanAirlines Arena and did not return.
Bosh dunked over the Indiana Pacers’ Hibbert and drew the foul with 1:06 remaining in the second quarter, but landed awkwardly on the floor. He made the free throws and left soon after for the dressing room.
“It is unfortunate Chris went down,” Wade said. “For me, I just had to turn it on and be more aggressive.”
The score was even after three quarters, but Miami opened the final quarter with an 8-2 run and never lost the lead after that.
Game two of the best-of-seven series is Tuesday in Miami.