By Scott Agness

Neither the Pacers nor the Miami Heat brought much momentum into their third meeting of the season Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Both teams had dropped seven of their past 12 games and had their share of problems. But a battle — and it was a physical test — brought out the best in the East’s top two teams in primetime showcase.

The Pacers (52-20) shot just 37 percent but they got consecutive stops to end the game, an 84-83 victory. With the win, the Pacers have clinched their second straight Central Division title.

With the Heat (48-22) in town for the final time during the regular season, the game was built up like a playoff game. There was an overflow of media on hand that provided all-day coverage, plus colored cards awaiting each fan at their seat that together revealed “BEAT THE HEAT.” Walking through Indiana’s locker room pregame, it was clear that it wasn’t just an ordinary game. They were mostly quiet, locked in and ready for an upcoming task — beat the defending champs, again. Roy Hibbert propelled the Pacers to a sensational start with a season-best 11 first-quarter points. They used 14-4 spurt to get up as many as nine and were ahead 23-17, their first time in five games with more than 19 points in the opening frame.


From the tip, emotions ran high and nearly cost the Pacers in the end. They led 76-72 with 5:01 to play after Lance Stephenson scored on consecutive possessions. But he got in the face of Miami’s Dwyane Wade and said something, costing him a technical. Problem was, he had already received one in the third quarter. So, Stephenson was sent to the locker room for the final stretch — though he admitted postgame that he couldn’t bare to watch — and not on the court where his teammates needed him.

That left Evan Turner, who was getting his first-hand taste of this series, to fill in for Stephenson. Over the next two minutes, Miami scored eight unanswered to go ahead by four, but then Turner beat his defender on two straight trips down the floor to put the Pacers back in front with a pair of layups. 40 seconds later, after a LeBron James’ 3-point attempt was off the mark, David West sank one from 27 feet out. Chris Bosh hit a triple with two seconds left, drawing the Heat to within one, and then they fouled George Hill.

WATCH: Roy Hibbert discuss the Pacers’ 84-83 win over the Miami Heat Wednesday night.

Hill stepped to the line and missed both, leaving the door open for the defending champions. Bosh got the ball but missed everything from the right side. The Pacers hung on, and in doing so hope they’ve been rejuvenated for the final push to the playoffs.

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