It’s not a series until the Bird’s brain goes cuckoo and Udonis Haslem insults three generations of David West’s family tree.
All that happened Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena, and it made for a colorful evening, but it all was secondary to LeBron James’ mastery in the final six minutes of the third quarter. After all, it’s not a series until James rescues the Heat from the jaws of defeat.
James gave new meaning to the phrase “hero ball,” shooting Miami out of danger in this best-of-7 series with a sequence of jump shots that put the Heat ahead for good in a 90-79 victory against the Pacers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat leads the series 3-2 and can close out Indiana with a victory at Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday night.
“That’s what I came here for, to be able to compete for a championship ... and we’re one step away from doing it again,” James said.
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In a game low on offense, James scored nine points in the final six minutes of the third period to distance the Heat in its most important game of the postseason.
“I was just in attack mode the third quarter, just looking for my shot, and luckily I was able to make some,” James said. “I took it upon myself to quit waiting and just go get it.”
James finished with 30 points, scoring 16 in the third quarter, to go along with eight rebounds and six assists. While his offense in the third quarter will be remembered, James’ defense was just as instrumental in the Heat turning a close game into a blowout and grabbing a firm advantage in the series.
“That’s LeBron showing his greatness and making it look easy,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “His engine in that third quarter was incredible. He was tireless. He was making plays on both ends of the court, rebounding, covering so much ground defensively and then making virtually every play for us offensively.
“It’s really remarkable and a testament to his conditioning and obviously his greatness, his ability to make big plays when you need it.”
In other words, Spoelstra was really, really, really happy James bailed out the team. For more than three quarters, it seemed like Indiana was going to take the Heat to the wire once again. The Pacers led by six points early in the third period before James and Haslem took over.
“With LeBron, it’s not what he says all the time but that look that he gives,” Haslem said. “And that look that I saw tonight was the same look last year I saw in Boston when our backs were against the wall. Once he has that look, we’ve just got to keep up with him.”
Paul George led the Pacers with 27 points, including 15 in the first half, but couldn’t keep pace with James and the Heat. George was 11 of 19 from the field and 5 of 8 from the three-point range. The Heat shot 50.7 percent from the field, 7 of 18 from three-point range and closed the rebounding margin to 33-32. On Tuesday in Game 4, the Pacers outrebounded the Heat by 19.
“We’ve just got to weather the storm,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “This is going to be a series for the ages. All series every time one team or the other has delivered a blow, the other team has responded.
“I just kept reminding them of that and our response is the next one.”
The Heat took its first lead (47-46) since the beginning of the game when Haslem threw down a dunk with 9:37 left in the third quarter. From there, the series went supernova and burned white hot deep into the fourth quarter.
Roy Hibbert blocked Chris Bosh’s dunk attempt with 7:01 left in the third quarter on a play that was reminiscent of Hibbert’s iconic block against Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Then, during the next few minutes, the series would be defined by the intensity of Haslem and James and, oh yeah, some pretty timely jump shots.
On the possession following Hibbert’s dunk, Haslem, Mario Chalmers and David West each received technical fouls for their creative interpretations of the English language. Initially, Chalmers and West got into it under the basket. Haslem then flew in from the periphery to push West off of his teammate and the tinderbox ignited.
“My emotions kind of got the best of me tonight,” Haslem said. “We really, really needed it, and it kind of just came out of me.”
Said Pacers forward George: “The momentum swung their way after that.”
Referees had to pull Haslem away as he lobbed insults and pointed fingers in West’s general direction.
The altercation seemed to embolden James, who started jacking up shots after the near-fight like he was at an arcade Pop-A-Shot. Good thing for James and the Heat, the shots went down.
Haslem was locked in as well. He scored 10 points in the third quarter and finished the game 8 of 9 from the field for 16 points.
“That burned us,” Vogel said of Haslem’s clutch midrange shooting. Dwyane Wade was 3 of 8 overall for 10 points. Bosh, who favored his injured ankle from the game’s tipoff, had seven points for the second game in a row. He also contributed five rebounds. His counterpart, Hibbert, had 22 points and six rebounds. He was 8 of 14 from the field and 6 of 6 from the free-throw line.
James’ 16 points in the third period were a Heat postseason high for points in a quarter.
An isolation, spot-up three-pointer by James gave the Heat a 61-55 lead with 3:16 left in the third period. It was an ill-advised shot, but James was the only player making a difference at that point and the Heat needed a spark. It also gave Miami its largest lead.
After James’ first three-pointer of the quarter, Haslem scored six points in a row to put the Heat ahead 67-55. James’ three-pointer with 16.1 seconds left in the period gave Miami a 70-57 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Earlier, it took Chris Andersen losing his cool for the Heat to show any signs of life, but even after Andersen nearly shoved Tyler Hansbrough into Biscayne Bay the Heat still struggled offensively. Meanwhile, the Pacers’ starters scored 39 of their teams 44 points in the first half. Indiana led the Heat 44-40 at the break.