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.