The Miami Heat held up very well the first two times LeBron James left with foul trouble Wednesday night.
But the third time it happened — when James picked up his fifth with 8:34 left in the third quarter — it was too much to overcome.
The Heat’s 93-90 loss at the Indiana Pacers in Game 5 Wednesday night was not crippling. The Heat still lead the Eastern Conference finals 3-2, with a home game set for Friday.
But had they won Wednesday, they would have had seven days in between the end of this series and the start of the NBA Finals.
That’s not happening now, and a big reason why was Pacers forward Paul George, who scored 31 of his game-high 37 points in the second half. He also had a game-high six steals, as the Pacers picked up their defensive intensity.
James was held to seven points, his lowest total for this year’s playoffs. He played just 24 minutes and made just 2 of 10 shots.
"It sucks for me because I’m not able to make plays and help our team win — 24 minutes is not enough for me to make an imprint like I know I can do," James said. "We will go back home and learn from our mistakes."
Coming into the game, James was averaging 26.3 points for the series.
Despite all that, the Heat, trailing 92-90, had a chance to win the game in the final few seconds. But forward Chris Bosh missed a 3-pointer from the right corner in the Heat’s last shot.
"I was able to get into the paint, drew two (defenders) and saw CB (Bosh) in the corner, in his sweet spot," James said. "I thought we had a pretty good look. You live with the results."
Indiana is now 3-0 in elimination games this season even though it is only 5-5 at home.
Going back to Miami, though, the Heat are 6-0 at AmericanAirlines Arena in this year’s postseason.
The Pacers got off to an 18-10 start. Pacers center Roy Hibbert, held scoreless in Game 4, was much more active, getting four points and five rebounds in the first quarter.
James, who rarely gets in foul trouble, left the game midway through the first quarter after he was charged with two fouls. However, the Heat outscored the Pacers 17-6 during James’ absence.
Then, with 6:03 left in the second quarter, James was charged with an offensive foul — a questionable call — and again left the game.
James was held to just two points — his worse first half of the entire season. He was limited to just 10 minutes due to the foul trouble, making one of five shots from the floor. He scored the Heat’s first points on a dunk but was hampered after that.
Heat forward Rashard Lewis, who started Game 4 but went scoreless, was in the starting lineup again Wednesday and picked up some of the slack with six points.
The Heat led 42-33 at the break, and the Pacers were outscored by 13 points when James was out of the game.
Just 21 seconds into the third quarter, it happened again — another foul on James. It was a bit of a touch foul on Hibbert, who grabbed an offensive rebound on the play.
THE TURNING POINT
With 8:34 left in the third quarter, James was caught fouling Lance Stephenson, who had poked the ball away from the Heat star. James tried to hold him back, and that was his fifth foul, sending him to the bench again.
The Pacers, who trailed the Heat by as many as 11 points early in the third quarter, capitalized on James’ absence. They outscored the Heat 31-15 in the third quarter and led 64-57 going into the fourth.
THE DIFFERENCE MAKER
George had 37 points, including 31 in the second half and 21 in the fourth quarter. For the game, he made 15 of 28 shots, including 5 of 14 on 3-pointers.
STAT OF THE GAME
George had six steals, which were as many as the entire Heat team. The Pacers had 12 steals and forced 17 Heat turnovers. It was that defensive pressure that turned the game around. Overall, the Pacers won the turnover battle by five.
Game 6 is Friday in Miami. It’s a must-win for the Pacers — lose and they are done. But the Heat want this game badly, too, because they don’t want to back to Indiana for a do-or-die Game 7.
The Heat also want to end the series on Friday so they help in the recovery of injured players such as center Chris Andersen, who has missed two games due to a bruised thigh.