MIAMI — LeBron James had a lot of words to say at halftime Thursday night. But Dwyane Wade didn’t need words after the game to describe at one point how fired up James was.
Wade simply took his fist and started punching his hand.
That’s also what James did to the Indiana Pacers.
The Miami Heat star scored 16 of his game-high 30 points in the decisive third quarter of a 90-79 win at AmericanAirlines Arena. That gave the Heat a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals, leaving them one win shy of their third straight Finals appearance.
James was not happy about a sluggish first half, when the Heat were down 44-40. James scolded his teammates at halftime and as they were taking the floor for the third quarter.
Heat forward Udonis Haslem said teammate Juwan Howard also got into the act at halftime and “threw a couple of things around the locker room.’’ But it’s not like Howard, who wasn’t even active for the game, could do much about it on the court.
“Not in a while,’’ Wade said about having seen James so fired up. “He was very animated. … He said a lot of things. I don’t know them word for word. But everybody has to look at themselves and look at each other and not let each other down and know that we have to pick up our energy, and we knew we had to on the defensive end.’’
Told about Wade’s punching his hand to illustrate how animated James was, LeBron didn’t disagree.
“I have a big voice on this team,” James said. “I sensed what was going on with our team in the first half. And 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.’’
When James bolted Cleveland to join the Heat before the 2010-11 season, there was a lot of feeling out about whether the leader on the team was James or Wade, who has been Miami’s star since 2003. James started to emerge in that role last season as the Heat won the NBA title.
Now, James is Miami’s kingpin. What he talks, his teammates really listen. They picked up their defense and they watched James go to work on the other end.
Among the limited criticism James gets these days is that sometimes he’s too unselfish. But James knew it was time to take matters into his own hands in the third quarter. With the Heat outscoring the Pacers 30-13 to seize a 70-57 lead, James shot 7 of 10, including 2 of 4 from 3-point range. But he did find the time during the quarter to hand out four of his six assists and grab four of his eight rebounds.
“I kind of just went back to my Cleveland days at that point and just say, ‘Hey, let’s try to make more plays and be more of a scoring threat as well,’ ’’ James said. “I was just in an attack mode in the third quarter, look for my shot.’’
James didn’t worry about deferring to fellow stars Wade and Chris Bosh, although they didn’t look much like stars Thursday. Wade had 10 points and Bosh seven.
But James did need some help, and he got it from an unlikely source. Then again, maybe Haslem is starting to become a likely source.
After he shot a surprising 8 of 9 in Game 3, Indiana coach Frank Vogel said “it’s probably going to be a long series for us” if Haslem does that again. Well, Haslem once again shot 8 of 9 and scored 16 points, 10 in the third quarter.
“I’m just getting to my spot,’’ said Haslem, whose jumper from the side was again torrid. “For 10 years, I made my living on the baseline.’’
Haslem also has made his living as an enforcer. And, not surprisingly, he played a role as this series continued to be chippy.
Haslem got one of five technicals in the game when he confronted Pacers forward David West in the third quarter after West went after Heat point guard Mario Chalmers. West and Chalmers also got technicals.
But the most heated altercation came with 9:02 left in the second quarter, when Heat center Chris Andersen clocked Indiana forward Tyler Hansbrough first with a shoulder and then with a two-handed shove. After a video review, both Andersen and Hansbrough received technicals and Andersen got a flagrant 1 foul rather than a flagrant 2, which would have meant ejection.
“I didn’t think it was a basketball play,’’ Hansbrough said of Andersen going after him after Hansbrough didn’t appear to provoke him. “I usually don’t talk. I don’t think he was saying anything before. It just came out of the blue and I was caught off guard.’’
Andersen was unavailable for comment. The NBA will review the play, and it’s not out of the question he could be fined or even suspended for Saturday’s Game 6 at Indiana.
The Andersen-Hansbrough incident came when the Pacers led 29-25 and the crowd was largely dead. For that reason, forward Shane Battier said it fired up his Heat.
“It gave us some extra juice,’’ Battier said. “It got the crowd into it most importantly, and when the crowd is into it, we’re usually into it.’’
What James provided, though, was a lot stronger than juice. James didn’t appear too happy before the game after he learned that he, West and Pacers guard Lance Stephenson had all been fined $5,000 for flopping in Game 4. That was simply the latest event in a series that has had its share of players flying around after either being hit or not.
With James preaching defense, the Heat held the Pacers to 21.4 percent shooting in that decisive third quarter. Indiana forward Paul George and center Roy Hibbert combined for just six points in the quarter after they totaled 29 in the first half.
George finished with 27 points and Hibbert with 22. Hibbert had just six rebounds, half his series average coming in, and the Pacers only outrebounded the Heat 33-32 after their margin had been 49-30 in the Game 4 win.
But the highlight shows will depict James’ offensive explosion in the third quarter. It’s scintillating viewing, and it’s moved the Heat within one game of another Finals.
“That’s what I came here for, is to be able to compete for a championship each and every year,’’ James said of leaving Cleveland as a free agent in the summer of 2010. “But it’s not promised at all. I made a tough decision, obviously. I think we all know the story. I’m not going to harp on that. I envisioned something that was bigger as far as a team. Sacrificed a lot for me individually, what I had going on in the summer of 2010 because I wanted to do something special with a team.’’
James, though, knew Thursday he had to take over individually in the third quarter. Wade’s fist could have been used after the game to show how James knocked out the Pacers.