With his team on the brink in Game 5 of a tied-up Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James added another classic to his highlight reel.
Thanks to an epic third-quarter display by the MVP, the Miami Heat defeated the Indiana Pacers, 90-79, Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. The win grants them the 3-2 series lead, with Game 6 in Indiana Saturday night.
James finished with 30 points, eight rebounds and six assists, but those numbers do not quite do his performance justice. The Heat were trailing by four at the half, playing seemingly rather uninspired basketball. Then James posted 16 points and four assists in the third quarter, having a hand in 24 of Miami's 30 points in the frame.
James hit jumpers and ran penetration kick-outs to perfection. It had shades of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago, when he dominated the Boston Celtics to retake the series momentum.
While he was definitely the highlight, James, of course, had help in the win. Udonis Haslem had his second big game of the series, going 8-of-9 from the field for 16 points. Haslem was dialed in from mid-range, hitting a slew of baseline jumpers in his 26 minutes of action.
Mario Chalmers finished with 12 points and six assists, but played his largest role in the first half. While the Heat as a whole appeared to sleepwalk for 24 minutes, Chalmers helped keep them in the game.
The Pacers were up to their old tricks in the first half, dominating the paint. Paul George ended the night with 27 points and 11 rebounds.
Roy Hibbert netted 22 points and David West scored 17, but the Heat weren't bullied like in Game 4. The home team was out-rebounded by only one and allowed just 32 points in the paint.
Hibbert and George combined for 29 points in the first half, including three treys from George. Their inside-outside pairing put the Pacers up 44-40 at halftime.
James scored or assisted on 20 of the Heat's first 21 points in the third quarter. The other four came emphatically from Haslem. Indiana coach Frank Vogel tried calling a timeout to stop the push, but it was unsuccessful. Out of the timeout, James' trey put the Heat up 61-55 with 3:13 left in the period.
Haslem went on a solo 6-0 run, netting three straight jumpers. He was 5-of-5 in the quarter, and his last jumper, on a James assist, put the Heat up 67-55 with 47 seconds to go.
Naturally, James pulled up from about 25 feet and bucketed a three. That gave him 16 for the quarter, with another four assists, and Miami entered the final frame ahead 70-57.
George got himself going again in the fourth quarter. He score five in the opening minutes, getting the Pacers back within single digits. A jumper with 9:22 to go made it 70-62.
Ray Allen countered with five of his own, partaking in a 5-0 run to push the lead back to 13. That forced another Vogel timeout with 8:04 to go.
James had himself an offensive breather through the middle of the fourth quarter, with his teammates heating up. Background pieces like Chris Andersen and Norris Cole kept the Pacers at bay. Andersen hit his 15th consecutive shot of the series, helping Miami build a 85-70 lead with 5:25 remaining.
Miami's defense willed the team toward the finish line, forcing Lance Stephenson and West into bad shots and sealing up defensive rebounds. Keeping Indiana down with a double-digit deficit, 88-76, Haslem forced Stephenson into a charge inside two minutes.
A few wild missed threes capped off a disappointing second half for the Pacers, getting outscored 50-35 after intermission. They'll have a chance to even things back up Saturday at home, but now it is their backs that are against the wall.