LeBron James scored 16 of his 30 points in a pivotal third quarter on Thursday to lead the Miami Heat to a 90-79 victory over the Indiana Pacers and to within one win of returning to the NBA Finals.
Reigning NBA champions the Heat took a 3-2 lead over the Pacers in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
The winner of the series faces Western Conference champions the San Antonio Spurs in the league’s title series beginning on Thursday.
Trailing 44-40 at halftime, the Heat outscored Indiana 30-13 in a third quarter which may prove to be the difference in what has been a close, physical and sometimes testy series.
Fittingly it was James, who recently collected the fourth regular-season Most Valuable Player award of his career, leading the charge.
He single-handedly outscored the Pacers by three points, handed out four of his six assists and grabbed four of his eight rebounds.
“That’s LeBron showing his greatness and making it look easy,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “His engine in that third quarter was just incredible. He was tireless. He was making plays on both ends of the court, rebounding, covering so much ground defensively and making virtually every play for us offensively. It’s really remarkable, and a testament to his conditioning and to his greatness — his ability to make big plays when you need them.”
The Heat will try to finish off the Pacers in Indiana in Game 6 today and return to the NBA Finals for the third straight year.
Udonis Haslem delivered a key effort for Miami, scoring 16 points on eight-of-nine shooting. Mario Chalmers scored 12 for the Heat, who forced 18 turnovers to help make up for quiet offensive nights from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who combined for just 17 points on six-of-14 shooting.
Haslem sparked Miami’s third-quarter charge with a dunk and finished a perfect five of five from the floor in the period.
Paul George scored 27 points with 11 rebounds and five assists to lead the Pacers.
“Our backs are up against the wall again,” said Pacers coach Frank Vogel, whose team fell in six games to the Heat in last year’s conference semi-finals.
Even if the Pacers win today to force a Game 7, they will have to return to Miami for the decider.
With the win, the Heat avoided the sort of desperate situation they faced last year, when they went down 2-3 to the Boston Celtics in the conference finals, but won the last two games to reach the NBA Finals, where they beat Oklahoma City for the crown.
After connecting on 51 percent of their shots from the floor in the first half, the Pacers made just three field goals in the third quarter.
A basket by George gave them a 53-51 lead with 5 minutes, 33 seconds left in the third, but that was the last time they would lead.
The Heat scored 16 of the next 18 points, James scoring seven points in the surge.
“I was just in attack mode in the third quarter,” said James, who also had some choice words for his teammates on their lack of urgency after the first half. “I looked for my shot and luckily I was able to make some.”
A three-pointer by George and a Tyler Hansbrough layup to start the fourth quarter saw the Pacers pull within 70-72, but that was as close as they got in the final frame.
George and Roy Hibbert combined for all 23 of Indiana’s points in the first quarter, when the Pacers took a four-point lead.