The Indiana Pacers stayed alive with a 93-90 victory in Game 5, taking advantage of LeBron James' foul trouble and squeaking out a close one at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Head coach Frank Vogel's team overcame six three-pointers from Rashard Lewis and 15 points off the bench from Ray Allen, relying heavily on a 37-point outing from Paul George. George had just six points in the first half but finished strong, willing his Pacers to victory in the game's waning moments.
The Pacers also got an efficient 19 points out of David West, who's been a model of consistency during the series.
Now the series returns to Miami for Game 6. The Heat won at home by 12 points in both Games 3 and 4. Indiana's resolve will be tested mightily as they attempt to force a winner-take-all Game 7 back home.
Seeds: Miami Heat, No. 2; Indiana Pacers, No. 1
Series: Miami leads, 3-2
Schedule: Game 6, Friday, May 30, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN); Game 7*, Sunday, June 1, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
*= if necessary
Key Storyline for Miami Heat
The Heat came awfully close to winning Game 5 despite LeBron James playing just 24 minutes and having the most muted impact of his playoff career. The reason is simple: Miami's supporting cast is doing a much better job than Indiana's.
Rashard Lewis was the story Wednesday night, cashing in on six three-pointers after going scoreless through the first four games of the series.
Ray Allen was the story in Game 3, scoring 13 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter and similarly using the three-point bomb as his weapon of choice.
The Heat have been able to count on Dwyane Wade, and James has been stellar when not haunted by the officials. After a slow start to the series, even Chris Bosh has come along nicely in Games 4 and 5. But the difference in the series is that the Heat have consistently had someone step up to take the pressure off the Big Three.
The Pacers haven't been so lucky.
The Heat receive endless attention on account of their superstars, but it's been the less lauded role players who have really defined this series. Expect more of the same in Game 6.
Key Storyline for Indiana Pacers
Things just got weird with Lance Stephenson's on-court antics. His now infamous decision to blow in LeBron James' ear during the fourth quarter of Game 5 has already elicited plenty of reaction.
Even Larry Bird admitted he wasn't especially impressed with the tactic, according to USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt: "Asked via text message if he was bothered by Stephenson blowing in James' ear, Pacers president Larry Bird replied, 'Yes I am.'"
Stephenson previously told reporters LeBron's willingness to exchange trash talk is "a sign of weakness."
The real question now is whether the Stephenson-produced sideshow is a sign of distraction. The Pacers will need to be all kinds of focused to have a chance in Game 6, and the last thing they need is absurdity clouding that up.
Chances are the rest of the Pacers will be just fine, but when it comes to Stephenson, you have to wonder who's in whose head. The 23-year-old would like to think he's getting the better of James, but that certainly wasn't the case in Game 4 when LeBron went off for 32 points.
Meanwhile, Stephenson has struggled from the field since Games 1 and 2 of the series. In his last three games, he's made just 10-of-27 field-goal attempts.
Which Chris Bosh will show up for the Heat? He scored just nine points in each of Games 1, 2 and 3. Since then, he's combined for 45 points in Games 4 and 5. The Heat have enough firepower to survive without Bosh firing on all cylinders, but it certainly narrows their margin for error when he's not.
Increasingly relegated to the perimeter, Bosh has been a reliable three-point shooter for most of the postseason. Even after his struggles early in the series, he's still converting on 40.7 percent of his long-range attempts during the playoffs.
If Bosh rises to the occasion in Game 6, the Pacers will be in trouble.
Indiana's power forward could also be an X-factor. David West is averaging 16.2 points for the series and scored 19 points in each of the Pacers' two wins. He gives the team a consistent mid-range presence, especially in pick-and-pop scenarios.
The Pacers need someone besides Paul George and Lance Stephenson to step up, and some combination of West and center Roy Hibbert could do the job. One way or the other, these Pacers need someone scoring on the interior and exploiting Miami's lack of size.
The Heat have often elected to go with a "small" lineup featuring Rashard Lewis at the 4. That bodes well for their ability to space the floor, but it gives up some interior defense. West and Co. have to take advantage of that.
Key Matchup: LeBron James vs. Paul George
This isn't just about who scores the most points. It may be more about who plays the best defense. James and George are both exceptional two-way players, capable of leading their respective teams in scoring and checking the other team's best scorer on the defensive end.
They'll be called upon to do plenty of both in Game 6.
George was the big story in Game 5 thanks to his 37 points and 21-point fourth quarter explosion. But we've also seen a far less aggressive version of the 24-year-old in this series. He combined to score just 31 points in Games 2 and 3, both Pacers losses.
James, meanwhile, was held to a career playoff-low seven points on Wednesday night. He played just 24 minutes due to early foul trouble and converted on only 2-of-10 field-goal attempts when he was on the floor.
Look for LeBron to come out guns blazing on Friday night. He won't look to score every time, because he's smarter than that. He's the quintessential team player. But he will look to make plays early and often, robbing the Pacers of whatever momentum they established in Game 5.
Miami ran out to a 3-1 series lead despite having three subpar games from Chris Bosh. If LeBron James hadn't gotten in foul trouble in Game 5, this series would be over already. The Heat won't be terribly phased by Indiana narrowing the gap, and they still have plenty of momentum after nearly pulling Game 5 out in the waning moments.
The Pacers have overcome a number of obstacles to get this far, many of which were internal. They deserve plenty of credit for getting their act together in time to advance to the conference finals.
But they've run into a determined and very talented brick wall.
Miami always had the advantage in terms of star power, but it's also looked deeper in this series, getting timely contributions from the supporting cast and effectively surrounding the Big Three with plenty of shooting.
Indiana will need another monster game from Paul George just to have a chance. And it still won't be a great one.
Prediction: Heat defeat Pacers, 97-90
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