Dwyane Wade joined LeBron James in dropping a combined 42 points on the Pacers in the second half.
MIAMI -- The most telling communications the Miami Heat made Sunday afternoon were all nonverbal.
The look on Chris Bosh’s face as he was on his knees following a dunk in the first half. The undercurrent of concern about Bosh that permeated the Heat locker room, overshadowing what was supposed to be a lighthearted atmosphere after a 95-86 Game 1 win.
But the most powerful was the unspoken understanding between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Bosh went down with an abdominal injury late in the first half and by the time the team gathered in the locker room they knew he wouldn’t be coming back. The Heat had suffered a blow in their most vulnerable area, losing their best big man against an Indiana Pacers team that is strong in the frontcourt.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra went over some new strategy and issued some reminders at halftime about how the team had to deal with it, talking about rebounding and the next man up and such.
Wade and James didn’t say anything to each other. They just went out and had one of the best halves they ever had as teammates.
When it was over, James and Wade had combined for 42 points in the second half and the Pacers went from getting the steal sign to picking themselves up after getting run over by the MVP and his running mate. James, who had 26 of his 32 points and never left the floor in the second half, and Wade, who had 16 of his 26 points after halftime, outscored the Pacers by themselves in the half.
During the 21 minutes they played side-by-side in the half, attacking the Pacers in transition and marching repeatedly to the foul line where they didn’t miss, the Heat outscored Indiana by 18 points. That made it the most efficient half of postseason basketball since they joined up last season.
“We knew when Chris went down we needed to flip a switch and become the one and two options,” Wade said.
James and Wade, of course, were the No. 1 and 2 options already. The difference was effort level. Without Bosh to function as the fulcrum of the offense -- he’s involved in nearly every set the Heat like to run because of his screen-setting and ability to score from midrange and around the rim -- Wade and James had to use strength and energy to get the Heat points.
So they didn’t rest and they barely stopped moving, relentlessly putting pressure on the Indiana defense. It took a toll on the Pacers. They got virtually nothing out of their own wing players -- starters Danny Granger and Paul George combined to shoot 2-of-15 -- as they were blitzed by the Heat’s greatest strength.
For all the debate about which of them is the leader or the closer or the decoy or the ball handler, this was truly Wade and James at their best. They were the more dangerous combo puncher and the Pacers couldn’t deal, few teams could. It wasn’t because of hot shooting -- James and Wade were a combined 20-of-49 -- but just because they didn’t stop.
“We took it upon ourselves to put the team on our back,” James said. “Of course.”
It was just a figure of speech, James didn’t mean to imply it was obvious what had to happen but it was just as truthful. The Pacers led throughout the first half, when James was a little disengaged and scored just six points as questions started about a possible MVP acceptance hangover, and had to feel they had a great chance to grab one with the Heat reeling from the loss of a vital player.
James and Wade just didn’t let that happen and it turned Sunday from an opportunity for Indiana to a frustration point.
“I give credit to the Heat for holding serve,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.
“It seemed like we weren’t supposed to win this one,” said George, perhaps a vague reference to the foul disparity that put Wade and James on the line a combined 24 times. “Everybody in this room knew we had this game.”
But everyone in the room knew something else: they aren’t beating the Heat when the two superstars play like that. That’s not a conversation. A discussion on whether they can keep it up with an increased minute load and perhaps some tweaks to the Pacers' game plan to attack Bosh backups Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf, that’s another matter.
That’s what the rest of this series, and Bosh’s MRI, will determine.
“If Chris is going to be out, I expect for our minutes to go up of course and our scoring will have to go up as well,” James said. “We did have a good flow, we were both attacking and weren’t waiting on one another. We were making play calls, getting to the line and making some shots. It felt good.”