LeBron James has given the Miami Heat a number of performances for the ages in his three years with the team, and he delivered another for Miami against the Indiana Pacers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
With his team struggling, James propelled the Heat to a furious finish, scoring 16 of his 30 points in the third quarter and leading the Heat to a 90-79 victory. Miami leads the series 3-2, and can earn a trip to face the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals with a win on Saturday.
"That's what I came here for, to be able to compete for a championship each and every year," James said. "I'm one step away from doing it once again. It's not promised. It's not promised at all. I made a tough decision. Obviously, I think we all know the story. I envisioned something that was bigger as far as a team ... and we've got an opportunity as a team, once again, for the third year straight to make a trip to the NBA Finals."
He added 8 rebounds and 6 assists, his 42nd career playoff game with at least 30 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists (only Michael Jordan has more).
Udonis Haslem scored 16 points, 10 in the third quarter, while Mario Chalmers scored 12 and Dwyane Wade added 10.
Roy Hibbert, Paul George, and David West scored 66 of Indiana's 79 points, while their teammates combined to shoot 5 for 20.
The first half was a plodding affair. Indiana led most of the way behind a combined 29 points from George and Hibbert. The Heat scored 9 points on 9 Pacers turnovers, missing multiple opportunities to score. The Heat scored just 5 fast break points, and only 18 points in the paint. Indiana led 44-40 at halftime.
A tussle between Chris "Birdman" Andersen and Tyler Hansbrough resulted in a flagrant-1 foul for Andersen. He knocked Hansbrough to the ground after a change in possession, and when Hansbrough stepped to him with some words, Andersen shoved him.
Hansbrough was assessed a technical foul for his role, but Andersen could find himself suspended for Game 6. The NBA will surely review the play on Friday, and Chicago Bulls center Nazr Mohammed was suspended for shoving LeBron James to the ground during the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Andersen did make both of the shots he took in the game to continue his perfect shooting performance in the series.
Before Miami took the floor after halftime, James huddled his teammates up for a pep talk, then took them on his back. What did he say? Both Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem declined to tell reporters after the game. The Heat outscored Indiana 30-13 in the quarter.
Miami attacked the rim to start the quarter, and the first four possessions resulted in four moves in the paint and seven points. He scored or assisted on 25 of Miami’s points that quarter, hitting from every area of the floor.
"That's LeBron showing his greatness and making it look easy," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "What we talked about was doing whatever it takes and competing for each other without leaving anything out there. 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."
Udonis Haslem scored 10 of his 16 points in the third, on 5 of 5 shooting. The Heat led 70-57 after three, and their lead did not fall below eight in the fourth quarter.
"We had 24 minutes to play for our livelihoods," Haslem said. "And that's how we played in the second half." He said Juwan Howard had words for his teammates at halftime, warming them up for James' middle act before the real show got started. "A lot of bleeps and stuff like that," Haslem described Howard's speech, though he did say that James' echoed Howard's words.
Game 6 will be played at Indiana on Saturday night. Miami can earn its third straight trip to the Finals with a win. The Heat have won its past eight potential closeout playoff games.
"It's the playoffs," Wade said. "Shane Battier said this is when you feel alive, when your back's against the wall. ... You've got to go out there and play. This is what we prepared for all season."