It was halftime, and the Heat needed an igniter.
The defending champs didn’t need to sweat their 44-40 deficit as much as their lackluster sense of urgency in an Eastern Conference final that was tied 2-2 and headed back to Indiana for Game 6.
LeBron James, likely feeling like he was back in his days as a Cavalier, needed serious help. Luckily, Miami has loads of options in times like these. Obvious ones like Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh. Less obvious ones like Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Chris “Birdman” Andersen or Ray Allen.
Instead, it was the only player other than Wade with two rings on the roster, Udonis Haslem, who sparked the team in a crucial 90-79 win in Game 5 after doing the same in Game 3 on Sunday.
Haslem went 8-of-9 from the field and scored 16 points, 10 of them in a third quarter that saw the Heat outscore the Pacers 30-13. Haslem credited another veteran for the wake-up call at the break.
“It all started with Juwan Howard,” Haslem told the cast of “Inside the NBA” following the game. “He pretty much started getting into us at halftime. Coach really didn’t have to say much, and then LeBron just took over and kind of echoed what Juwan said. We just weren’t playing with enough energy, enough effort, lookin’ around expecting plays to be made without going out and making them. Second half, we just talked about going out and making plays and taking the game over on both ends of the floor.”
After a layup early in the third quarter, Haslem brought the fans in AmericanAirlines Arena to their feet 38 seconds later by driving and throwing down an emphatic one-handed dunk that gave Miami a 47-46 lead, its first since a Haslem layup made it 4-2 in the first quarter. That forced a Pacers timeout, but nothing coach Frank Vogel drew up was going to change the script Haslem was helping to write.
From that point, Haslem set up shop at his favorite spot along the baseline and nailed 3-of-3 jumpers from about 18-21 feet away as the Heat took an insurmountable 70-57 lead into the fourth quarter.
“I just persevere,” said Haslem, who scored 17 points, also on 8-of-9 shooting, in a 114-96 Game 3 win on Sunday. “Whenever I have the opportunity to help my team win, I go out there and do my job. This team is based on depth. Tonight was my opportunity to step up, so I was ready.”
Haslem was ready to match up with 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert defensively, and he was prepared to be an enforcer against the big and physical Pacers. Halfway through that decisive period, Haslem came to the defense of Chalmers and went nose-to-nose with Indiana forward David West. All three players received technical fouls in a game that featured five technicals and one flagrant.
“Nobody wants to go home. Emotions are riding high. It’s very intense,” Haslem said. “There’s a lot of alpha males out there on the floor. Sometimes you’re going to bump heads.”
Haslem only averaged 18.9 minutes, 3.9 points and 5.4 rebounds a game this season, all career-lows for the 10-year veteran. But the player who’s spent that entire decade in his hometown of Miami has gained an unwavering trust from his teammates in dire situations.
“We’ve got great playmakers,” Haslem said. “Sometimes teams guard us differently. I’m not really a guy that’s going to be judged on points every night. Sometimes my job changes as a role player. The couple games I have been making shots, my guys have just been coming to me. I’m just stepping in with confidence, knocking it down.”