INDIANAPOLIS -- On the score sheet, Paul George's 37 points and Roy Hibbert's 13 rebounds sticks out prominently, but Lance Stephenson’s play as the proverbial fly in the ointment of the Miami Heat on Wednesday night might have been just as big in helping the Indiana Pacers survive in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Pacers 93-90 victory in final seconds kept the Pacers alive. Stephenson, who had taken a beating in the press and then on the court in Game 4, decided to keep his comments and antics to the basketball floor.
His play was credited for LeBron James picking up his fifth foul as the Pacers guard seemed to pull out all of his bag of tricks, even trying to sneak in on a conversation between Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and other Miami player on the sidelines.
“I just wanted to hear what he had to say,” Stephenson said sheepishly with a big smile on his face after the game. “Just wanted to hear about what they were about to do on offense. They were trying to run the pick-and-roll and I heard it. I was just trying to figure out what he was talking about.”
There was another incident the television cameras picked up of Stephenson blowing into James’ ear between a play. When asked what he was trying to do at that moment, C.J. Watson, whose locker is next to Stephenson’s, laughed out loud as the guard searched for an answer.
“We’re just playing basketball,” Stephenson said with a laugh. “We're just having fun.”
But there was a method to Stephenson’s madness in irritating James and other Heat players and the proof came in the razor-thin margin of victory.
“I was happy he got his fifth foul and we got the win tonight,” Stephenson said. “He was very aggressive [and] we forced some fouls on him. It definitely messed up their offense and it forced other players on their team to step up. We just locked in on defense and tried to make it hard for them.”
Pacers coach Frank Vogel said he was happy with anything his players could do to slow down James.
“[Stephenson] just competed,” Vogel said. “Nobody can stop or slow down LeBron. LeBron got out of rhythm because of foul trouble. Just all of our guys, we just competed, as tough as we could, no matter who we are on. [Miami’s] shot-making was ridiculous and we were still able to prevail. So I’m very proud of our guys.”
With Stephenson doing the dirty work, it allowed George, Hibbert, David West and the rest of the Pacers to come back from a nine-point halftime deficit.
George, who had been somewhat effective all series, found his groove when Indiana needed it the most in the second half. He scored 10 points in a 33-point third quarter that erased a nine-point halftime deficit to give the Pacers a 64-57 lead going into the fourth quarter.
“I thought they had multiple opportunities to go up but we made some key plays with our hands and got some key rebounds when we needed,” said West, who scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
Then when the Heat got close in the fourth quarter, George’s three-point shot with 46.7 seconds left helped give the Pacers the breathing room they needed to sustain the victory.
Hibbert collected his second double-double of the series with 10 points along with his 13 rebounds.