There was nothing soft about Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat.
Wade scored 41 points, LeBron James chipped in 28 and the Heat finished off the Indiana Pacers, locking up a return trip to the Eastern Conference finals with a 105-93 victory in Game 6 on Thursday night.
RELATED: E, Conf. finals tickets on sale Fri.
The Heat wrapped up the best-of-7 series and will face either Boston or Philadelphia in the next round starting in Miami on Monday. Of course, nothing less than an NBA title will make for a satisfying summer in South Beach.
Two series down, two to go.
The Heat rallied from an early 11-point deficit, riding the hot hand of Wade in the opening half. He scored 26 points by the break, tying Tim Hardaway's 16-year-old franchise record for most playoff points in the first two quarters. James hit consecutive baskets with just over a minute remaining to close it out.
Next up, the Celtics or surprising 76ers. The Heat will get a much-needed chance to relax before worrying about the next opponent, which will be determined in Game 7 at Boston on Saturday.
David West led Indiana with 24 points and all five starters were in double figures. But that balance was overwhelmed by Wade and James.
In a game of spurts, the decisive one came in the closing minutes of the third quarter, the Heat pushing out to their third straight impressive win after falling behind 2-1 in the series.
The Pacers tied it at 66 on Darren Collison's 3-pointer, but it was all Heat the rest of the period. They closed on a 13-3 run, capped by Mario Chalmers' buzzer-beating 3 from the corner. Wade, who was on the bench getting his customary breather at the end of the quarter, leaped from his seat as the ball left Chalmers' hand at the far end, raced along the baseline and pumped his fist when it swished.
As Chalmers raced toward the Miami bench, Wade greeted him near the free throw line with a low-five.
For the most part, D-Wade did his best work while in the game.
He dropped 11-of-16 shooting on the Pacers in the first half, but also made sure the MVP stayed involved, dishing off a behind-the-back pass to James for a thunderous jam.
Indiana clamped down a bit on No. 3 the rest of the way, but he still managed perhaps his most jaw-dropping basket. Darting into the lane, he threw up a wild-looking, one-handed shot that looked like it might go over the backboard, only to catch the top of the glass and drop through, barely touching the twine.
There was none of the nastiness that marked Game 5, when a bunch of flagrant fouls resulted in suspensions for two Miami players, co-captain Udonis Haslem and backup center Dexter Pittman. Pacers president Larry Bird was so disgusted with his team's performance that he accused them of going "soft."
That wasn't the problem this time. This was merely a Miami team on a mission, a mission that began in the summer of 2010 when the Heat signed James and Chris Bosh to join Wade in a seemingly unbeatable Big Three. There was a glitzy introduction and predictions of multiple championships, which left the rest of the league seething and plenty of people cheering when Miami was knocked off in the NBA finals by the Dallas Mavericks last season.
Shaking off that disappointment, James had perhaps his greatest season yet. But it was Wade who took control in the decisive game against the Pacers, delivering the final blow when he split West and George Hill, banking in the shot despite taking a knee from Hill that sent the Heat guard tumbling to the court.
The Pacers simply didn't have enough to match the Heat, even with the Big Three down to the Big Two because of an injury to Bosh.
Chalmers finished with 15 points, while Mike Miller stepped up to provide some quality minutes, scoring 12 points on four 3-pointers to help fill the void without Haslem, Pittman and Bosh.
When Miller wasn't in the game, he stretched out along the baseline to cope with his various aches and pains, more comfortable that way than sitting in a chair. When coach Erik Spoelstra called his number, Miller summoned several of his teammates to help lift him up.
The Pacers started out like they were intent on sending the series back to Miami for a decisive game that surely would have had all of South Florida on edge.
West knocked down a short jumper right off the tip, Danny Granger stuffed one off a fast break and the Pacers had their yellow-clad fans in a tizzy when Granger connected on a 3-pointer to make it 13-3 before the game was 5 minutes old. Another basket by Granger, this one a turnaround jumper, gave the Pacers their biggest lead at 19-8.
But Miami wasn't going to roll over that easy. Miller made the first of his 3s in the closing seconds of the first quarter, and Wade took over from there. He started the period by banking in a 12-footer, then made another short jumper to leave the crowd stirring uneasily. Miller followed with another 3 — and just like that, it was all tied up.
Yet another 3 by Miller, this one a good 5 feet beyond the arc, gave Miami its biggest lead of the half, 41-35. Back came the Pacers, who went to the locker room with a 53-51 lead and hope of extending their season for at least one more game.
Turns out, they were down to their last half.