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Basketball: Hawks put Pacers on the brink while Heat advance

Top seed Indiana was pushed to the brink of elimination from the NBA playoffs on Monday while defending champion Miami advanced to the second round despite a LeBron James injury scare.

INDIANAPOLIS: Top seed Indiana was pushed to the brink of elimination from the NBA playoffs on Monday while defending champion Miami advanced to the second round despite a LeBron James injury scare.

Eighth-seeded Atlanta, the only playoff team with a losing record, ripped the Indiana Pacers 107-97 to seize a 3-2 edge in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series. Miami completed a four-game sweep of Charlotte with a 109-98 triumph.

In Charlotte, James shook off fears of an injury scare to score 31 points. He took a knee to his left thigh and limped briefly, but added nine assists and seven rebounds for the visiting Heat, who next face either Brooklyn or Toronto in their bid for a third NBA title in a row and fourth consecutive trip to the finals.

"We got better every game. You improve every game," James said. "To have the kind of mindset we had on the road was big time."

In Indianapolis, Hawks reserves Shelvin Mack and Mike Scott came off the bench for their highest-scoring career playoff games, Mack scoring a team-high 20 points and Scott, who finished with 17 points, connected on five 3-pointers in a 41-point second period outburst by Atlanta to seize command.

"We have great respect for this team," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "They are testing us and we have to respond."

Now Indiana, which evened the series with a road victory Saturday, must win on Thursday in Atlanta to force a seventh game Saturday at Indianapolis.

"We did it two days ago," Vogel said. "We have to do it again."

History is against the Pacers, who have never advanced in 10 tries when they trail a series 3-2.

The Hawks, trying to become only the sixth bottom seed to topple a top seed in the opening round, led by as many as 30 points before the Pacers rallied late but fell short.

"That 41 points (in the second quarter) was just too much to overcome," Vogel said. "They had nine 3s in the quarter. Give them credit. Some of them were uncontested. Some of them were great coverage."

"They outplayed us and took advantage of their speed and free throws. We have to play them without fouling."

The Hawks took a boost from the triumph but know the job is far from done against the highest-ranking team in the East this season.

"It gives us a lot of confidence," Mack said.

"But they are a great team. They will come out with heart on Thursday and play hard knowing their season is on the line. We will have to raise our level."

Paul Millsap added 18 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots for the Hawks while Kyle Korver had 16 points, his five 3-pointers helping Atlanta set a playoff record with 15 from beyond the arc on the night.

Paul George contributed 26 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and six steals for the Pacers, who suffered their second home loss in the series. David West, Lance Stephenson and George Hill all scored 16 points for Indiana.

At Charlotte, James shook off fears of an injury scare to score 31 points. He took a knee to his left thigh and was briefly limping but added nine assists and seven rebounds for the visiting Heat, who next face either Brooklyn or Toronto.

"We got better every game. You improve every game," James said. "To have the kind of mindset we had on the road was big time."

Before the Miami-Charlotte game, Heat players ditched their warm-up outfits at centre court and wore practice jerseys inside out. This was a show of solidarity with the Los Angeles Clippers, who did the same thing on Sunday in a silent protest in the wake of racist comments attributed to Clippers owner Donald Sterling that have become a major controversy.

After the game, James shook hands with Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, the retired legend whom four-time NBA Most Valuable Player James is often compared against as the best player in NBA history.

"It was a sign of respect," James said. "We had great respect for this team. They are a team on the uprising."

It was the final game in history for the Bobcats, who will change their name to Hornets, the original Charlotte team's moniker. Hornets became available when New Orleans changed its name to the Pelicans starting this season.

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