With his team trailing by four points at halftime of a pivotal Game 5, LeBron James lit a fire under the Miami Heat with a profanity-laced tirade at the beginning of the third quarter. LeBron and the Heat then proceeded to torch the Indiana Pacers with one of the most impressive third-quarter performances in recent memory.
When the dust settled, James' post-break blitz had turned a four-point deficit into a 13-point lead. Miami coasted home from there, taking a 3-2 series lead with its 90-79 victory Thursday night.
James finished with 30 points, eight rebounds and six assists on 13-of-26 shooting, but it was his remarkable third period that shifted the momentum of the series and gave the Heat a lead that typically proves insurmountable in a seven-game series.
And while his individual takeover will get the headlines, James' vocal leadership helped empower his teammates to come along for the ride.
Udonis Haslem responded to James' profanity-laced tirade by burying jumpers (he finished 8-of-9 on the night) and playing with the kind of physicality that Miami has lacked against the bigger, stronger Pacers. James assisted on three of Haslem's five third-quarter baskets.
Mario Chalmers hit a three in the period, making him the only Heat player besides James and Haslem to convert a field goal in that 12-minute span. Naturally, James registered the assist on the play. Overall, the Heat put together an offensive quarter that had everyone buzzing about their efficiency.
And while James' teammates didn't all respond with an offensive outburst like Haslem's, every one of them gave maximum effort on defense.
The combined result of Miami's renewed defensive intensity and James' offensive blitzkrieg was one of the very best quarters the Heat have played in any game this season. In fact, it might have been one for the ages.
What's encouraging for the Heat is that much of what they did in the period is actually sustainable. It's not as though James suddenly started barreling into the redwood tree that is Roy Hibbert. Instead, he worked his way into the mid-range area or the outer edges of the paint. The Pacers generally don't mind shots from those spots on the floor, but James started to hit a few.
And as Indiana collapsed ever so slightly, he started whipping passes to open shooters. The mid-range jumper isn't always an ideal way to generate points, but with James getting wide-open looks for himself and generating them for others, the Heat seemed to finally settle into a rhythm from the perimeter.
If those are the kinds of shots the Pacers were willing to allow, Miami had to eventually get comfortable with the idea of taking them. It seems like James' forceful speech and impressive leadership helped embolden the Heat to shoot those shots confidently.
That's important, because "force" isn't always a part of James' repertoire.
James has had a habit of waiting for the game to come to him. He often spends entire quarters in the background, content to let his teammates get going—secure in his ability to take over if need be. This time, though, he took over and brought his team along with him.
It's possible that we're witnessing the next phase in LeBron James' development as a player. Often, players with the kind of skill LeBron has are content to lead by example. But when he ripped into the Heat in the huddle before taking the floor for the third quarter, James showed that he's also capable of motivating and leading with his words.
And yes, it probably helps that about half of them were of the four-letter variety.
Ultimately, what James did after halftime was a reminder that for all of the Pacers' terrific chemistry, committed defense and mental fortitude, the Heat are still in control of this series because they have the best player.
And when said best player is pissed off, forget about it...Indiana can't compete.
What's particularly amazing about James' takeover in Game 5 was that the Heat absolutely needed it to win. Offensively, both Dwyane Wade (10 points) and Chris Bosh (seven points) were underwhelming (again), and the bench was spotty. If James hadn't energized his team's defense and taken over on offense, there's a good chance Miami would have lost this game.
LeBron James rose to the occasion in the third quarter of Game 5, but his ability to raise his voice at critical moments may ultimately count for much more in his team's ongoing championship pursuit.
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