Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) and Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson (1) stand on the court during the fourth quarter in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeated Miami 93-90. (USA TODAY Sports: Brian Spurlock)
To Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson, the on-court antics riling up critics are just part of his game.
“Just comes out of the blue. Just playing ball, having fun,” Stephenson said in Miami, where the Pacers face a 3-2 deficit ahead of Game 6 on Friday night. “I’m just trying to win the game. That’s about it.”
Stephenson did his best to stay in the shirt of LeBron James in Game 5, when James wasn’t sitting out because of early foul trouble, and was the central focus of screen grabs and GIFs around the globe when cameras caught him blowing in the left ear of James during a dead ball. James seemed surprised, but reacted only with a wry smile, shaking his head in befuddlement. Stephenson also stood in front of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra as he offered instructions to Norris Cole during another dead ball.
“People are in my huddle all the time,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel. “Every player in the NBA does that. That’s nothing. Blowing in his face probably crosses the line. That’s not really who we are. We want to be a competitive team, but we don’t want to cross the line.”
The NBA did not comment on the incident but did fine Stephenson $10,000 for his second flopping violation of the playoffs.
Vogel said he plans to continue to mix and match defenders against James. Paul George, who flourished offensively Wednesday when Stephenson held the primary chore of checking James, and Stephenson both said Thursday they expect to get time against what will no doubt be a focused former MVP.
“LeBron’s going to be LeBron. He’s going to come out and play with a lot of energy,” George said. “I’m sure he’s got a lot built up from not playing much in Game 5. So our hands are going to be full with LeBron. We know that. It’s just about challenging him, myself challenging him, and playing at the same level he’s playing at.”
Vogel said Stephenson will not sulk if he doesn’t draw the primary assignment and keeps himself ready for any role.
“All he really cares about is doing whatever it takes to get a W. I think that’s a good attribute,” Vogel said.
The Heat won’t change much in Game 6, after being a Chris Bosh 3-pointer away from advancing to the NBA Finals in Wednesday’s loss at Indianapolis. Bosh missed an open look from the corner on a designed play that made the perimeter shot an option if the Pacers collapsed to cut off James’ penetration.
Spoelstra held a practice Thursday to have his players reconnect.
“I wanted that anger and frustration and emotion today,” he said, “(Friday) clear heads.”
Guard Ray Allen did not practice but shot free throws and received treatment for a leg injury. He’s expected to play Friday. Chris Andersen, who was deactivated for Game 5, was not ruled out for Game 6. A Heat win would push Miami to the Finals for the fourth straight season with the benefit of five days rest before the start of that series.
“When we get to (Friday), it’s not about the rest. It’s not about what the game means,” Spoelstra said. “It’s not about the context. It’s not about any of that. It’s about what we need to do to get tomorrow night’s game.
The main thing being the main thing. Can we impose our identity on the game and play it more on our terms?
“You can’t — tomorrow we can’t even live in the past about the game. That’s why we came in (Thursday). And you can’t think about the future.”