INDIANAPOLIS — There was a punch Thursday.
It just wasn't the one anyone expected, in a series that's been marked by rough plays and rougher retaliations. It came late in the third quarter, with Dwyane Wade giving his body, and the poor Pacers, the briefest of rests. It came after the ball left Mario Chalmers' hands, just before the buzzer. It came as the ball fell through the net, with Wade already sliding down the baseline, cocking his fist.
Punching the air.
That was the punch-out of the pugnacious Pacers, for all intents and purposes, putting the Heat ahead 10 on the way to a 105-93 victory. Indiana tightened it some in the fourth quarter, pulling within six with 2:28 remaining, before LeBron James drove in for an easy layup, then swept in for a much tougher one, then drained a 20-foot step back jumper. So, yes, James (28 points) did plenty in this close-out contest, one that advanced the Heat to the Eastern Conference finals for a second straight post-season - Miami will face the winner of Saturday's Game 7 between Boston and Philadelphia, starting Monday.
But James ranked second on this night to No. 3, who entered and left the arena in hot pink pants.
"They're just mad they can't pull this off," Wade said of getting mocked in the ESPN studios.
And, no, the Pacers couldn't pull off an upset.
Simply, they got too much Wade.
Too much 2006 Finals Wade.
Took much 2008-09 should-have-been-MVP Wade.
Too much splitting of double teams, too much slithering through the smallest crevices, too much banking in shots while drawing fouls.
Forty-one points, on 17-of-25 shooting.
"He was spectacular from the beginning to the end," James said.
Just as James had been from the start of the series.
"We had our whole focus on Derrick Rose last year (in the playoffs), and it's like having two of them out there," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "After Game 3, these guys played at such a high level that I don't know if anybody can beat them."
It was too much for a balanced opponent – five starters in double figures – that failed to expand another early lead or exploit the Heat's size deficiency without the injured Chris Bosh and the suspended Udonis Haslem and Dexter Pittman. Indiana, too often throughout the series, got away from Roy Hibbert inside, even as the Heat struggled to handle him.
It was too much for a team that did much too much talking.
And it put to rest all the talk about his decline, which was rampant during his six quarter struggle in Game 3 and 4 here, before he found his form in the latter's second half.
"I just had a bad game," Wade said, referencing back to last Thursday's disaster, which included a public spat with Erik Spoelstra. "It happens. I made the adjustments."
He made them with Spoelstra's help, which both James and Wade praised in their post-game press conference.
The Heat's strong finish to the series also might quiet some of the conversation about something else: the lack of depth on its roster, considering the way it rallied without Haslem.
"We know we've got a depth," Chalmers said.
Still, they had to show it. In each of the final four games of the series, the Heat got a significant contribution from one of the role players, to compensate for Bosh's extended absence. In Game 3, it was Chalmers scoring 25, but it didn't cover for the worst performance of Wade's post-season career. In Game 4, it was Haslem sinking four jumpers down the stretch, courtesy of the pick-and-pop. In Game 5, it was Shane Battier, splashing three early threes, and doing every little thing imaginable.
And in Game 6, somehow, it was Mike Miller.
"He might be the toughest guy on this team," Wade said.
It hurts to watch Miller walk, due to a sore left ankle. He can't sit for more than a minute in a seat on the bench, because his back's been busted for weeks, with no cure in sight. So he sprawls out, lying against the cushioned back of the baseline media table. He can't rise from either position unless a teammate yanks him up. He hangs on the rim before entering, not to flash his athleticism, but to simply get a stretch. He grimaces through everything, even when he's trying to slip his warmup back over his shoulders after exiting. So what he did Thursday, in between all that agony, was miraculous, sinking four four-pointers while chasing the quicker Leandro Barbosa.
His performance was a worthy complement to Wade's acrobatic offerings. Now they'll both get the weekend break they sought.
"I appreciate the extra rest," Wade said.
Until he punches the clock again Monday.