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Heat falter after uncharacteristic miscues

INDIANAPOLIS -- With the San Antonio Spurs having already advanced to the NBA Finals, coach Erik Spoelstra scoffed when asked at Tuesday morning's shootaround if the Miami Heat had any extra incentive to hurry up and finish off the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals.

Expressing his displeasure with the line of questioning, Spoelstra pointed out the fact that the Heat had their hands full enough trying to finish off games against the Pacers.

“We had a four-point lead late in the fourth quarter in our building and lost Game 2,” Spoelstra reminded reporters. “We're in an absolute dogfight of a series right now.”

Spoelstra's message was clear Tuesday morning: If anyone had preliminary thoughts of a potential Heat-Spurs matchup, their minds were completely in the wrong place.

A few hours later Tuesday night, the Pacers went out and proved why the race to represent the East is far from over.

After answering multiple runs the Pacers made from the outset, the Heat sputtered down the stretch amid foul trouble and a late offensive drought in a 99-92 loss that tied the best-of-seven series at 2-2 entering Game 5 on Thursday.

The setback ended a five-game road playoff win streak this postseason for Miami, which had won 23 of its previous 24 contests away from AmericanAirlines Arena. But the Heat faltered after a handful of uncharacteristic problems and breakdowns in addition to stiff defense from the Pacers.

LeBron James was disqualified on an offensive foul with 54 seconds left after picking up four of his six fouls in the final seven minutes of the game. And Dwyane Wade was whistled for a rare traveling violation the next possession. It was the culmination of a stretch in which the Heat were outscored 13-3 over the final five minutes of the game.

“You would like to be out there on the floor … be there for my teammates, especially in the closing minutes when we have a chance to win,” said James, who fouled out of a game for the first time since Game 4 of last year's conference finals against Boston. “I wasn't able to do that.”

James seemed to be affected by officiating calls throughout the game. He was assessed a technical foul at the 2:48 mark of the first quarter after a brief exchange with Indiana guard Lance Stephenson. James committed only one foul in the first half, but a steady stream of whistles started to come with two seconds left in the third when he was caught for extending his elbow into Pacers forward David West.

But James wasn't the only Heat player in a foul mood because of the officiating. Wade and Mario Chalmers each had five fouls and Chris Bosh had four.

Despite the foul trouble, Miami still rallied from a nine-point deficit early in the fourth to pull ahead 89-86 on Ray Allen's 3-pointer with 5:14 left in the game.

After the game, James went through the checklist of all the fouls that were called on him in the second half. He acknowledged fault on some, but questioned others.

“That's how the game goes sometimes,” said James, who had 24 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks and a steal in 43 minutes. “I was able to get it going a little bit in the second half, but I played mostly with foul trouble.”

The Heat were in a similar position in Game 2 at home when they led 88-84 with six minutes left before the Pacers closed on a 13-5 run to earn a split after losing Game 1. On Tuesday, Miami missed 12 of 19 shots in the fourth quarter and was outrebounded 16-4 in the period. It was an equal opportunity meltdown for the Heat, who sputtered offensively and couldn't keep the Pacers off the boards.

With Roy Hibbert and Paul George attacking and controlling the lane in the fourth, Indiana scored 14 of its 22 points in the paint. And seven of those points came after crashing the offensive glass and scoring on putbacks.

There were multiple explanations for the late miscues.

“It's different things,” Spoelstra said. “This one was finishing our defense. When we had opportunities to finish the last five seconds all the way to the rebound, secure the possession … we just couldn't corral those second chances. It seemed like that was the biggest difference.”

Offensively, Wade said the Heat just stopped hitting the same shots they made to answer each of the Pacers' previous spurts, which included an 11-0 start to the game.

“Take nothing away from them, they're a great defensive team,” Wade said of the Pacers. “But we got good shots. We just didn't execute. It's tough, but that's the game of basketball. You win some and you lose some.”

Bosh suggested the late-game issues were more complex and included instances of abandoning certain play calls.

“It's not our rhythm, we just have to focus a lot more,” said Bosh, who played with a sprained right ankle in the second half and had seven points and three rebounds. “That's really it. Some plays we had, we didn't run them. Most of the time you just have to get right into it, trust what we do.”

Bosh declined to talk about the extent of his injured right ankle, but said he expected to play Thursday in Miami after getting treatment throughout the day Wednesday.

“It's not [an] issue,” Bosh said. “It's the playoffs. You're going to have ups and downs. It's not about what happens, but it's about how you respond. I'm just going to watch some cartoons, eat some cereal and get ready for Game 5.”

For the second time in four games, the Heat felt they allowed a game to slip away. On some levels, they also believed Tuesday's outcome was beyond their control.

“We just couldn't catch a break, that was the main thing,” said Chalmers, who had 20 points in his best game of the series. “Every time we got going, there was a whistle for a foul or a kicked ball or something like that. It's just something that we have to keep working through.”