MIAMI — There will be no win-or-else Game 6 in the Eastern Conference finals for the Miami Heat this season. LeBron James saw to that, and now the reigning champions are one victory from a third straight trip to the NBA Finals.
James finished with 30 points, eight rebounds and six assists, Udonis Haslem made his last eight shots on the way to a 16-point night, and the Heat used a dominant third quarter to turn things around and beat the Indiana Pacers 90-79 in Game 5 on Thursday.
Mario Chalmers scored 12 points and Dwyane Wade added 10 for the Heat, who lead the series 3-2 and will look to close it out at Indiana on Saturday night. The Heat ousted the Pacers in six games in a second-round matchup last season.
Paul George had 27 points and 11 rebounds for the Pacers, who got 22 points from Roy Hibbert and 17 from David West. The Pacers led by as many as seven at one point, but had no answer for the Heat in the third, getting outscored 30-13 in the period, including 21-6 in the final 7 minutes.
James and Haslem combined for 26 points in the third, and were simply too much. Haslem’s first shot of the night hit the side of the backboard. He didn’t miss again, going 8 for 8 and sealing it with a jumper with 1:51 left — 12 seconds before drawing an offensive foul against Lance Stephenson, the sixth for the Pacers’ guard, who finished with just four points.
A year ago, the Heat lost Game 5 of the East finals to Boston, and needed a 45-point game from James in Game 6 just to extend their season.
Not this time.
The Finals — and a date with San Antonio — is now one win away.
As if this one needed any more buildup, there was plenty of news long before tipoff.
The NBA announced in the morning that it fined James, West and Lance Stephenson $5,000 apiece for flopping in Game 4, along with upgrading a foul that West committed against Wade in the fourth quarter of that game to a flagrant-1. Then Hibbert and West, speaking after Indiana’s morning practice, said they have to protect their knees when Shane Battier is in the game for Miami, though neither flatly accused the Heat forward of dirty play.
And all that happened more than eight hours prior to game time.
Things didn’t exactly calm down once the ball went into the air.
Indiana was blown out in Game 5 of a tied-up series at Miami last season, never holding the lead and losing by 32 points. This one took a much different tone from the outset, with the Pacers running out to a 15-9 lead that could have been worse for Miami given that West and Hibbert combined to miss three easy layups in the opening minutes.
George and Hibbert combined for all of Indiana’s 23 points in the first quarter. Indiana’s lead was four after the first quarter, and when the second began, the reminders that these teams simply do not like each other started coming fast and furious.
Chris Andersen and Tyler Hansbrough needed to be separated early in the second, and both got technicals after Andersen appeared to hit Hansbrough twice, first with a shoulder and then with a two-hand shove. Andersen also picked up a flagrant-1 for his efforts, things cooled off a bit for the rest of the half, and Indiana went into the break up 44-40.
The Pacers then scored the first basket of the third.
After that, all Heat. Or more specifically, all James and Haslem, who put together a burst that the defending champions desperately needed.
“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.”
If nothing else, that season won’t end this week, not after what the Heat did in the third quarter.
Haslem got past Hibbert easily and into the lane for a dunk that put Miami up 47-46, the first Heat lead since 4-2. The Pacers were back on top by a point with 6:58 left in the third when fighting words reappeared, on a play where George Hill was called for an offensive foul after getting caught pushing off on a drive. West angrily approached Chalmers after the play and both of those players, along with Haslem, got technicals when it was all said and done.
It clearly fired up Miami.
James and Haslem combined to score 18 of their team’s 21 points in the final 6:04 of the third — and everything came on jump shots, including a 3-pointer from Chalmers, three jumpers averaging 20 feet from Haslem, and five more from James, including a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left in the quarter that put Miami up 70-56 and had him yelling at no one in particular as the arena roared.
Indiana had been up six in the third — and a 20-point swing later, suddenly found itself down 14. James accounted for 25 points (scoring 16 and setting up nine more with four assists) in the period, 12 more than the Pacers managed combined.
Just like that, the game — and perhaps the series — changed.