The Pacers were back to being themselves Sunday.
They made shots. They defended hard for 48 minutes. Lance Stephenson regained his swagger and, yes, the reeling Pacers even looked like a playoff-ready team.
David West made three free throws in the final 15 seconds and Stephenson produced his league-leading fifth triple-double to give Indiana a 102-97 win over Oklahoma City 102-97, putting the Pacers on the cusp of clinching the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re going to treat it (the season finale) like a playoff game. We have to get that No. 1 spot,” Stephenson said. “That’s what we wanted from the beginning of the season so we have to take it, not get it, we have to take it.”
All they need is a win Wednesday night at Orlando or one more Miami loss. The Heat visit Washington on Monday and host Philadelphia on Wednesday.
It’s been a wild second-half ride for Indiana (55-26), which held the top spot in the East from opening night in October until the last week of March. When the Pacers beat the Heat on March 26, they had a three-game lead and a seemingly firm grasp on home-court advantage.
As the losses mounted, though, Miami charged back and finally took the top spot on March 31. But rather than pulling away, the two-time defending champs gave the lead right back.
Miami retook a one-half game by beating the Pacers at home Friday, then fell into a tie with Indiana after losing Saturday night in Atlanta.
The Pacers went into Sunday’s game with six losses in eight games and the knowledge that all they had to do was win their last two — because they have a better conference record than the Heat.
So just like that, Indiana flipped the switch and got back to looking the a championship contender.