INDIANAPOLIS – Thank goodness for Mario Chalmers on Thursday night. Who knows how bad it would have been for the Miami Heat without him.
As it was, the Heat were run out of the gym 94-75 by the Pacers as Indiana took a 2-1 series lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference semifinals.
Chalmers led all scorers with 25 points – thisclose to the 27 points LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (five) combined for.
“It's good to see him be aggressive and that's what we need from him,'' coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We need him to be offensive minded, get into the paint and make plays as another ball-handler and playmaker. He also has to run the team. He has a lot of responsibility. This will help moving forward.''
Chalmers, coming off a rough outing in Sunday's loss in Miami, turned up his game on Thursday as his eight points in the first quarter were almost as many as he scored in the opening two games of the series (nine).
Chalmers' 25 points set a personal postseason record, topping the 20 points he scored against Boston (2010) and Philadelphia (2011).
With both James and Wade struggling from the field, Chalmers was Miami's unexpected offensive force, carrying the Heat to what was a short-lived comeback midway through the fourth.
In the fourth, with the Heat down 18, Chalmers went on a personal 7-0 run he kicked off with a 30-foot shot. Chalmers' run – and the nice dish to Wade that the Heat star easily put in for just his second field goal of the night – brought Miami to within 11 points with plenty of time remaining.
Yet Chalmers didn't score again after that – and the Heat watched Indiana retake control of the game. Chalmers said he fell hard on his wrist but X-rays were negative. Although the wrist is sore, Chalmers said he'll be fine for Sunday's Game 4.
“On the plane, I spoke with D-Wade and he told me with Bosh out this was my chance to step up,'' Chalmers said. “The main thing for me was staying out of foul trouble. I did that in the first two games, couldn't get into a rhythm and help my team. That wasn't the case [Thursday].''
With Chalmers playing the way he was, Norris Cole didn't get the looks he did in Game 2. With Chalmers in foul trouble and struggling from the field, Cole was brought in for his most substantive play since Game 1 of the opening-round series against the Knicks. On Tuesday, picked up five fouls and ended with five points on 2-of-10 shooting.
“I have to stay out of foul trouble,'' he said. “That's the bottom line.''
Cole grew up in nearby Dayton, Ohio – about a one-hour drive east of Indianapolis on I-70 – and figured he had at least 30 cheering him on Thursday.
“My family is real close to here so they're coming to show support for myself and the team,'' said Cole, a Cleveland State product.
“Being in the playoffs, being on the road and having the ability to have family come and watch is great. I'm enjoying this ride. I had a great college experience and now I'm with one of the best teams in the world with some of the best players in the world. This is great.''
After playing 11:37 in the opener against the Knicks, Cole rarely left the bench in the following two games and didn't see any action in the final two of that series.
Cole was benched for the third straight game in Sunday's series opener against the Pacers, but with Chalmers struggling, Cole played 17:08 in Game 2. Cole was 2-for-2 from the field and dished out an assist.
“As a competitor, you want to play. But you want to do what's best for the team so I just had to stay ready,'' he said. “I prepared as if I was going to play. When my number was called, I was ready to step in and perform. It's all about staying prepared because coaches are making adjustments on the fly. You have to stay ready. This is our job, playing at the highest level.''
Spoelstra said Cole's preparation and mental state will serve him well when called upon. Cole was scoreless on one shot in 9:34 on Thursday.
“He kept himself ready and is tough as nails,'' Spoelstra said before Thursday's game. “You get into a competitive and physical series here, and well, that fits his nature. Because of the circumstances with Chris Bosh being out, it affects every part of our rotation. Everyone has to be ready.''