Udonis Haslem found his way, even if he couldn’t quite see clearly.
On an afternoon when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were dominant, combining for 70 points, it was Haslem who was the closer for the Miami Heat.
The veteran power forward who had lost his starting job a game earlier and had lost his shot well before that, stepped up to hit four of the Heat’s final five shots in the 101-93 victory Sunday over the Indiana Pacers that tied this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series at 2-2.
“Every shot he made tonight was big,” James said. “Without him, we don’t win this game.”
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Considering James scored 40 points and Wade 30, that might come off as hyperbole.
But even after the Heat had stormed back from an 11-point deficit, there still was work to be done with the Heat up 86-81 midway through the fourth quarter.
Enter Haslem, who entered shooting 2 of 11 in the series.
With 5:57 to play, he hit a 12-foot jumper for an 88-81 Heat lead.
With 5:14 to go, he converted a 14-foot jumper for a 90-83 lead.
With 3:05 left, he drained an 11-foot jumper for a 94-85 advantage.
And with 1:11 remaining, he nailed an 18-foot jumper to make it 98-91.
As a matter of perspective, James did not have a basket over that stretch, with just three points over that span, and Wade had one basket, his lone points during that run.
For Haslem, it was a return to his roots.
Instead of rolling to the basket, as is the role of ailing starting power forward Chris Bosh, who is sidelined with a lower-abdominal strain, Haslem decided it was time to be true to himself, to step back and step up with the trademark jumpers that had been instrumental to so much previous Heat success.
“I did some things out there that I was used to doing, kind of picked and popped a little bit instead of rolling to the basket,” he said. “Pick and pop has really been my game the majority of my career. So instead of rolling to the basket, with those trees down there, I just flared back by like I usually do. I’m more comfortable doing that than anything.”
As a team captain, and good soldier, Haslem had found himself trying to be Bosh when Bosh wasn’t available.
Sunday, he was true to himself to the tune of 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
And yet of all the memorable shots for Haslem in this one, there is one he would just as soon forget, an elbow above his right eye from scrappy Pacers reserve power forward Lou Amundson with 9:37 to play.
“I didn’t know I was bleeding at first,” said Haslem, who was bleeding profusely. “They were saying I needed stitches, but there was nine minutes left in the game. There was no way I was going to get stitches and come back and play. It just wasn’t going to happen. I just told them to try to stop the bleeding.”
So he returned practically as a pirate, the bulky bandage sagging to his sightline.
“It might have made me focus a little more. I don’t know,” he said. “At first it was a little uncomfortable.”
But then he stepped back into his comfort zone and finished off the Pacers, evening the series as it heads to Tuesday’s Game 5 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“D-Wade and ‘Bron just told me to play my game, pick and pop,” he said. “I’ve been rolling to the basket all year, and that’s really not comfortable to me.”
Battier steps up
Shane Battier started again at power forward for the Heat in place of Haslem and, again, gave up 35 pounds and an inch to Indiana’s 6-9, 240-pound David West. But, again, West was neutralized. West had eight points, six rebounds and five fouls in Sunday’s game.
“I’m just trying to make him work,” said Battier, who finished with three points and four rebounds. “I’m giving up about 40 pounds and he’s a lot stronger than me. There’s not much I can do about that except make him work for everything he gets.”
Staff columnist Dave Hyde contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/iraheatbeat