It was too close to another one-man show in terms of the Heat’s Big 3 here Thursday night, but that was OK this time. That was just fine, in fact.
See, when that one man happens to be named LeBron James, anything is possible. And when that man decides to take over a game the way James did this one in the third quarter, well, he can change a game, and a series, and maybe an entire postseason.
He can save you, is what he can do.
He take an NBA team’s repeat championship dream that had begun to gasp a little bit and fill it with fresh oxygen, just the way he breathed life into the home crowd Thursday, turning to from stunned-sullen to sonic.
LeBron James on a night like this can remind you — in a surreal, prolonged burst of muscle and grace and raging will — why he is simply the best.
Why he is a four-time league MVP.
Why even an observer not prone to hyperbole might try “awesome” to describe this man, after a game like this, and then worry that was understating it.
Miami beat Indiana 90-79 to take a crucial 3-2 lead in this Eastern Conference finals, and Miami did it because James’ third quarter was memorable even by the standards of a man whose Hall of Fame career has been a highlight parade.
The Heat trailed by four points at halftime, and during a timeout before the second-half tipoff, James was seen shouting, no, screaming at his teammates. He pounded a fist in his palm. The language was not intended for children. LeBron wasn’t exhorting what was about to happen. He was demanding it.
If there remained any vestiges of doubt whose team this is now, that moment addressing his team ended it.
“We didn’t play with enough sense of urgency in the first half,” James explained later. “I just got in ’em and let ’em know we just can’t play with our talent. And my guys responded.”
An angry halftime talk by inactive veteran Juwan Howard also was mentioned by other players.
“There was a lot of bleeps,” Udonis Haslem said. “He threw a few things around, I almost forgot that,”
Said James: “Juwan’s voice in that locker room is as big as anyone’s. He got on us at halftime, let us know we weren’t connected as a team. At the beginning of the third I just tried to reiterate that in my own words.”
All of those words inspired. James pretty much did the rest.
He scored 16 himself in the third and with assists accounted for 25 of Miami’s 30 points in that quarter as the Heat recovered the fast pace that suits them best, and that left Indiana suddenly looking slow and tired.
That pace “was getting to our identity” as coach Erik Spoelstra said.
James finished with a game-high 30 points, but it was a video of that third quarter you’d include in a Heat franchise time capsule.
“That was LeBron showing his greatness, and making it look easy,” Spoelstra said of that magic quarter. “His engine in that quarter was incredible. He was tireless, making virtually every play for us. It was really remarkable.”
Now, reigning champion Miami is one victory from a return trip to the NBA Finals to face San Antonio.
If that victory does not come in Game 6 on Saturday in Indianapolis, Miami would have a Game 7 back here by the bay on Monday night.
League history has found that 87 percent of Game 5 winners in a seven-game series go on to advance, and Thursday night had that heft to it, that feel of importance.
Now the Pacers must do what has not been done since early January: Deal back-to-back losses to a Miami team Pacers coach Frank Vogel called “one of the great teams this league’s ever seen.”
After dropping the previous game, the onus was on Miami to win at home Thursday — to not see its repeat-title hopes backed to a wall.
There would be a restoration of calm or an eruption of chaos emanating from the downtown bayside arena and rippling across South Florida late Thursday, and there would be precious little middle ground between those emotional extremes. The mood spilling out of this place onto Biscayne Boulevard would be festive or funereal.
Well, exhale, Heat fans. Party a little if you’d like. Thank LeBron.
(Then, come Saturday, get ready for the stomach churn all over again.)
James got most of his offensive help Thursday from Haslem, whose 16 points came on 8-for-9 shooting, shades of Game 3.
LeBron’s Big 3 mates, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, didn’t do much. Wade scored 10 points on 3-for-8 shooting, his career-worst 11th consecutive game below 20 points. Bosh had seven points on 3-for-7 shooting.
Said James: “I just kind of went back to my Cleveland days at that point” — meaning, taking it upon himself in the third quarter.
Had Miami lost, James not getting enough help — not getting the help he left Cleveland to find — might have been the story line.
James took it upon himself to make sure it wasn’t.
The Heat showed up ready for a fight this night, even if it didn’t always seem so in the first half.
Before the game, Spoelstra had set the battle tone by showing players an old video of Muhammad Ali beating the bigger George Foreman.
Chris “Birdman” Andersen shouldered and shoved the Pacers’ Tyler Hansbrough, drawing a flagrant-1 foul but firing up the crowd.
Later, Haslem got in David West’s face.
“My emotions kind of got to me,” Haslem said. “It was just one of those games. We really needed it.”
The fight was won before it ended.
The fight was won in the third quarter, because that’s when LeBron James took the gloves off.
“Once he has that look in his eyes,” Haslem said with a small smile, “we just got to try to keep up with him.”
The Pacers sure couldn’t.