INDIANAPOLIS >> LeBron James watched helplessly from the bench as Miami’s lead slipped away in the second half.
Plagued by fouls and pestered by Lance Stephenson, James never got into rhythm as the Indiana Pacers staved off elimination with a 93-90 victory on Wednesday, holding on after Chris Bosh’s 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds left was off the mark.
"It’s tough for me because I’m not able to make plays and help our team win," James said. "I made a couple in the fourth, but 24 minutes is not enough time for me to make an imprint on the game."
Certainly not against a team as desperate as the Pacers, who pulled within 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals. Game 6 will be Friday in Miami.
James finished with seven points, two rebounds, four assists and three turnovers. It was the first time he was limited to single digits since he scored eight in the 2011 NBA Finals against Dallas and only the 10th time in his career.
Without James’ usual contributions, Miami’s supporting cast tried to bail him out.
Bosh had 20 points and 10 rebounds. Dwyane Wade and Rashard Lewis each finished with 18 points and the Heat were 15-for-31 from beyond the arc — and it still wasn’t enough.
"Offensively, we couldn’t get in a rhythm, but I thought our defense was great," Wade said. "I thought we gave ourselves a chance because of our defense. Even when they took an 11-point lead, we still had an opportunity. On the road, that’s all you can ask for even without LeBron playing and putting his imprint on the game."
Indiana’s biggest star, Paul George, took advantage of James’ absence.
The 24-year-old All-Star scored 21 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter. It took everything in George’s repertoire to get it done. He was 12-for-19 from the field in the second half and finished with six rebounds, six steals, five 3-pointers and only three turnovers in 45 minutes.
But the Pacers still needed everything else to go right.
In addition to losing James, the Heat committed 17 turnovers compared to just 13 for the usually turnover-prone Pacers, Indiana had a 45-38 rebounding edge and George simply couldn’t be stopped in the second half.
"I just felt it. I felt in rhythm. I had to be aggressive," George said. "I tried to come out and be aggressive to start this game off and I was getting looks. I got hot."
George fell just short of his playoff career high, the 39 he had in Game 4 against Washington in the previous series, and was just four points short of Reggie Miller’s franchise record in an NBA playoff game.
For Miami, it was a rare stumble in an elimination game in the Big Three era. Three other times, the Heat had lost Game 1 on the road and all three times they won the next four games to close out the series. The Heat were in position to do it again Wednesday even with James’ limitations.
But the Pacers took advantage of James’ absence in the third quarter and held on late.
Hard falls and tough plays were a theme all night for a Pacers team that had been roundly criticized for its lack of effort in Monday night’s loss. Lance Stephenson took it a step farther. At one point, he attempted to listen in on one of Miami’s huddles. At another, he blew in James’ ear.
"I’m just here to play basketball, man. All the extracurricular activities, I don’t really get into," James said. "I’m just trying to win. We need one more win to get to the finals. That’s my only concern. All the extra stuff, whatever Lance wants to do, I don’t really care about that."
It looked like the Heat might clinch their fourth straight conference title Wednesday, something last done by the Celtics from 1984-87, when the Pacers trailed 50-41 with 6:56 left in the third quarter.
Then George took over.
He started an 11-0 run with a layup and ended it with a steal that he turned into a dunk to give the Pacers a 52-50 lead. Miami quickly tied it on Udonis Haslem’s layup, but George answered with a 3-pointer that sent the Pacers on a 12-5 run to make it 64-57 after three.
Indiana extended the lead to as much as 77-66 early in the fourth on another George dunk, but when James re-entered, things changed.
The Heat rallied, tying at 81 on James’ only 3 of the night with 3:51 to play and twice managed to get within one in the final 76 seconds. George then hit a 3 and West made one of two free throws in the closing seconds to seal it.