LeBron James said a few words at halftime to try and coax something more out of the Miami Heat. Turns out, whatever he said was unnecessary.
The look on his face was all the Heat needed.
With a brilliant third quarter, James immeasurably changed not just Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, but quite possibly whatever's still left to decide in this series. James scored 16 of his 30 points in the decisive period, Udonis Haslem added 16 and the Heat pulled off a second-half rally to move one win away from the NBA Finals after beating the Indiana Pacers 90-79 on Thursday night.
"With LeBron, it's not what he says all the time," Haslem said. "It's just the look he gives."
And that look was back when the Heat needed it most, just like last year.
A year ago, the Heat lost Game 5 of the East finals at home to Boston, and needed a road win to extend the series and save what became a championship season. James scored 45 points in that win-or-else game against the Celtics, and the expression on his face — a steely stare, chilling and emotionless — is simply known around the Heat now as "The Look," immortalized by a larger-than-life photo on the wall leading to the team locker room.
This year, Game 6 of the East finals won't be accompanied by the potential for dire consequences. The Heat lead the series 3-2, with a chance to finish it off in Indiana on Saturday night and move on to a finals matchup with the San Antonio Spurs.
"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."
Indiana was up 46-40 early in the third, surely sensing a chance to grab control of the series. Over the next 11 minutes, the Heat outscored the Pacers 30-10, with James either scoring or accounting for 25 Miami points. He shot 7 for 10 in the third quarter; the Pacers shot 3 for 14. He had four rebounds in the quarter; the Pacers, as a team, grabbed six. He had four assists in the quarter; the Pacers had one.
It was dominance.
"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."
Mario Chalmers scored 12 and Dwyane Wade added 10 for the Heat, who ousted the Pacers in six games in a second-round matchup last season and will look to do the same this time around, albeit one round deeper.
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 and now have to win back-to-back games — against a team that hasn't lost consecutive games since early January — if they're going to somehow win this East title.
"I don't really know," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said, when asked if there's anything a team can do when James gets on a roll like the one he had in the third quarter. "He was pretty special tonight. There's no question about it. This whole team is special. It's one of the best teams that this league's ever seen and we're enjoying competing against them. We know we can beat them, but we've got to play better than we did tonight."
Haslem said Juwan Howard threw a few things in the locker room and had a few choice words for teammates at halftime — "a lot of bleeps and stuff like that," Haslem said — and that James echoed the same remarks just before the start of the third.
"We had 24 minutes to play for our livelihoods," Haslem said. "And that's how we played in the second half."
Haslem's first shot of the night was a complete brick, bouncing off the top of the backboard. He was perfect the rest of the way, including going 5 for 5 in the third.
For the second time in the series, Haslem — who has struggled with his shot for the better part of two years — finished 8 for 9.
"That burned us," Vogel said.
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 in which 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 them, along with Haslem, got technicals when all was 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. 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.
"We didn't have enough fight," West said. "We stalled."
George didn't sound overly impressed even after James' third-quarter numbers.
"He just came out and made some shots," George said. "You take away that third, and we're in the ballgame."
Indiana was blown out in Game 5 of a tied-up series at Miami last season. 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.
"There's no question, we blew some opportunities in the first quarter," Vogel said.
George and Hibbert combined for all of Indiana's 23 points in the first quarter. Indiana's lead was four after the period, and when the second began, the reminders that these teams simply do not like each other started coming fast and furious.
Miami's Chris Andersen and Indiana's 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 leading 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. And now the finals are one win away.
"We were able to respond," James said.
NOTES: The Pacers spent Thursday night in Miami, not planning to fly home until Friday afternoon. ... David Beckham was courtside near the Heat bench, Floyd Mayweather Jr. was courtside near the Pacers' bench. ... Hansbrough left in the fourth quarter with a sprained right ankle after falling over Shane Battier, who was down on the court after going for a rebound.