MIAMI – NBA playoff games are rarely won in the third quarter. Thursday was an exception. LeBron James made sure of that.
James, the Miami Heat’s superstar forward and the undisputed Best Player on the Player, had 16 points, four rebounds, four assists and one block in the third quarter of the Heat’s 90-79 Game 5 Eastern Conference finals victory over Indiana.
“That’s LeBron showing his greatness and making it look easy,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Think about it this way: LeBron’s third-quarter stats were better than the entire night’s work for every one of his teammates, and six of the nine Pacers who took the court.
James had a hand in 25 of Miami’s 30 third-quarter points. He had a flashback.
“Yeah, I kinda just went back to my Cleveland days at that point and said, ‘Let’s try to make more plays and be more of a scoring threat as well.’ ”
In other words, LeBron bailed out the Heat. Again.
But he wasn’t alone. Apparently octogenarian Juwan Howard, (yes, the same Juwan Howard who was a member of Michigan’s Fab Five) delivered a fiery halftime narrative to adjust the Heat’s mindset.
“There was a lot of bleeps and stuff like that,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said, later adding, “He threw some things around, too. I left that out.”
LeBron spoke emphatically, too. If you watched a replay of James, fiery post-halftime speech on the TNT broadcast, you may have noticed they blurred the area around his mouth at last a half-dozen times, disappointing lip-readers around the world.
Before we took the floor in the third quarter I just gave them a little piece of my mind and a piece of my voice, and we were able to respond,” he said.
Said Heat guard Norris Cole: “He wanted to start us off with a bang and to end the game with a bang, and he expressed that to us.”
The Heat can wrap up a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals with a victory in Saturday’s Game 6 at Indianapolis.
But you wonder if LeBron can continue carrying the Heat in this fashion, whether it’s Game 6, Game 7, or possibly in the NBA Finals against San Antonio.
“He was pretty special tonight,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said of LeBron’s Game 5 performance. “There’s no question about it.”
James was at his best in the third quarter, when the Heat outscored the Pacers, 30-13, to stretch a slim 44-40 halftime lead into a commanding 70-57 advantage entering the fourth quarter.
From the time his jumper tied the game at 51, James led the Heat on a 14-4 run to end the period, and he scored 11 of those points.
That means in the third quarter, and in the game, James out-shined Indiana’s Big Three of forwards Paul George (27 points, 11 rebounds, five assists), David West (17 points, eight rebounds) and center Roy Hibbert (22 points, six rebounds).
And it was much-needed. Hibbert, George and West were killing the Heat in the first half. They combined for 39 of the Pacers’ 44 points and appeared set to do serious damage the entire night. Hibbert and George scored all 23 of the Indiana’s first-quarter points. The Heat couldn’t stop them.
Game 5 wasn’t supposed to be about LeBron. It was supposed to be about the teams, both teams.
But Miami still needs more from the other two members of the Big Three – guard Dwyane Wade and forward Chris Bosh. Wade, who has been slowed by a bone bruise to his right knee, ended with 10 points (on 3-for-8 shooting), six assists and four rebounds. Bosh, who battled a sprained right ankle sustained in Game 4, ended with seven points and five rebounds.
So for the second time in this series it was forward Udonis Haslem (16 points on 8-for-9 shooting) and guard Mario Chalmers (12 points, six assists) who filled in the gaps.
The Heat’s usual reliable guys – Wade, Bosh, guard Ray Allen (seven points on 2-for-6 shooting) and forward Shane Battier (no points on 0-for-2 shooting) – have disappeared.
Well, except for LeBron.
He’s the constant, he’s the rock.
In a game in which things could have gone really badly – let’s face it, Chris Andersen, the Birdman, probably should have been ejected for that second-quarter shoving episode with Tyler Hansbrough, and that would have hurt – LeBron kept then all together.
If you’re a Heat fan, you have to be concerned about the future performances of Wade, Bosh, Allen and Battier.
You don’t, however, have to wonder about LeBron.
He’s one game away advancing to his fourth NBA Finals in 10 seasons, and his third consecutive.
“But it’s not promised,” he said. “It’s not promised at all.”
Chris Perkins is a veteran Miami-based sports journalist who covers the Heat for SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.