Turnovers doom LeBron, Heat down stretch

MIAMI -- As LeBron James walked onto the makeshift stage late Friday to take his seat at the postgame news conference, he plucked the edge of the stat sheet he held.

In reality, the summary of numbers on the page was of little to no use for the Miami Heat star. The important figures were already downloaded and analyzed in his head.

The 36 points James scored in Game 2 of the Heat's playoff series against the Indiana Pacers marked the eighth time in his past nine conference finals games he's scored at least 30.

But they weren't enough.

The efficient 14-of-20 shooting, team-high eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and block in 45 minutes of play really didn't matter at the end of the day, either.

The only total James was fixated on after Friday's 97-93 loss to the Pacers was listed alongside his name in the third column from the right of the page, near where he plucked.

Five turnovers.

Two of them came in the final minute on passes intended for Ray Allen that were both deflected by David West. The pair of errors came as the Pacers' defense boxed in James, forced the four-time league MVP into uncharacteristic late-game miscues and completed a suffocating rally to even this series at 1-1 heading to Indiana for the next two games.

In a span of 48 hours, James transitioned from the celebrated hero who scored the layup at the buzzer in a 103-102 victory in Game 1 to committing the key blunders that cost his team Game 2 and home-court advantage.

“Very disappointing, of course, for me,” James said of a game that was on the verge of being one of the best of his postseason career but became one he hopes to soon forget. “The first thing I always look at on the stat sheet is my turnovers. I am very disappointed in my judgment and my plays down the stretch. But I'll make up for them.”

James might have accepted the bulk of the blame for the Heat's loss. But he was hardly Miami's biggest burden on a night when multiple breakdowns conspired to leave the Heat in the same position they were in a year ago when the Pacers earned a split in Miami and eventually took a 2-1 series lead before losing 4-2 in the conference semifinals.

There are numerous reasons the outcome shouldn't launch a new and silly debate on James' clutch gene. Not when he didn't get enough help from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who shot a combined 12-of-28 from the field.

It's hard to put this all on James when Miami's defense allowed Indiana to shoot 50 percent from the field, including 41.7 percent from 3-point range.

And especially when normally reliable sharpshooters Shane Battier and Allen sank so deep into their respective slumps Friday that coach Erik Spoelstra was forced to dust off seldom-used Mike Miller for a spell.

And despite all those debilitating elements, Miami still led 88-84 with six minutes left after Bosh knocked down a 3-pointer to cap another one of those swift flurries that make the Heat so devastatingly dangerous on most nights.

It was at that moment when you figured the Heat finally flipped the switch and landed the major blow that usually leaves an opponent stumbling. But Miami is finding out with each passing quarter in this series that there's something a bit different about this Indiana team.

These Pacers have a solid chin. And they just keep coming.

It's still early in this series, but these don't seem to be the same Pacers former team president Larry Bird called soft as they were on the verge of losing three straight in the series last season after taking a 2-1 series lead over Miami.

These Pacers absorbed a 30-point triple-double from James on Wednesday, regained their footing, and showed the mental toughness and resilience to pressure him into the costly mistakes this time around. Two nights ago, James twice sliced through their defense in the final possessions and capitalized on a Paul George defensive miscue that was compounded by coach Frank Vogel's decision to take 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert out of the game down the stretch.

On Friday, the Pacers again saw James coming at them from the top of the key with the game on the line. Indiana guard George Hill described what it felt like to be in that same situation with James on the move.

“It's only like one other person that's more scarier than that, and that's God,” Hill said. “If we were looking at him in the face, we would be very nervous. He's the MVP for a reason. He's one of the best that ever played this game.”

James is also at least one other thing: He's human.

That won't stop him from seeking perfection the next time he's in that spot against the Pacers. But even a near-perfect performance from James might not be enough to get past the Pacers if his disciples don't offer more support.

The Heat made just one basket in the final six minutes of the game, which was a conventional three-point play by James to give Miami a 91-89 lead with 3:32 left. From there, the Heat's final sequences in succession ended with missed 3-pointers from James and Mario Chalmers, two free throws from Bosh, a missed jumper from Wade, the consecutive turnovers from James and another missed jumper from Bosh.


“We haven't played the way we need to play,” Bosh said of sharing in the responsibility of the Game 2 outcome. “You can't do that in the playoffs, especially against a team like that. They pretty much choked the life out of us. It's us; it's all of us. Our backs are against the wall, and I think this is what we need right now. Playoffs are about adversity.”

And the Heat have certainly experienced enough to know better than to overanalyze matters or panic. There's too much evidence to prove otherwise. It starts with last season's playoffs, in which they trailed at one point in the final three series before beating Oklahoma City in the Finals.

It's one reason Spoelstra did his best to launch a preemptive strike as he addressed Friday's loss and looked toward regrouping for Game 3 on Sunday.

“The storylines will change, but we know the deal,” Spoelstra said. “We have to play well. We have to finish. We have to close out games. We pride ourselves on finishing. We just weren't able to do it tonight. So we have to go back to the drawing board and get ready for Game 3.”

The irony in the results for James was that his night began with another session with the media an hour before the game in the Heat locker room. He was asked about his passing ability and humorously talked about how he probably could have been a quarterback if he had chosen to stick with football instead of pursuing his basketball career.

In James' alternate universe, he might have even been the quarterback for his beloved Dallas Cowboys. Of course, Friday night, he had plenty in common with Tony Romo.

They both know the frustrating feeling of committing turnovers in the decisive moments of a crucial game.

“Can't happen in that situation,” James said. “Especially being down two in a big game. But the best thing about it ... it's not one loss and you're done. I have another opportunity to get better in Game 3, and if I'm put in that position again, to be able to learn from it.”