MIAMI (AP) — Inside a downtrodden Indiana Pacers locker room, Lance Stephenson had an interesting choice of words.
“I can take the heat,” he said.
The Heat, that’s another story.
A season built on the idea of breaking through against Miami is now on the brink for the Pacers, who are heading home in a big hole. LeBron James had 32 points and 10 rebounds, Chris Bosh added 25 points, and the Heat moved one win away from another Eastern Conference championship with a 102-90 win on Monday night.
Game 5 is Wednesday in Indianapolis.
“We got outplayed by the Heat,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “I wasn’t disappointed in our fight. I was disappointed in the result.”
Paul George scored 23 points and David West added 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Pacers, who got 15 points from George Hill. But Stephenson – who made news in the days between Games 3 and 4 by suggesting he was in James’ head – was held to nine points on a foul-filled night, and 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert was scoreless in 22 minutes.
Only the Celtics and Lakers franchises have been to the NBA Finals in at least four straight seasons. The Heat now have three chances to join that club.
“We have a chance to play an NBA game on our home floor,” West said. “We are going to try to do something that’s very tough.”
Dwyane Wade added 15 points and Miami never trailed, leading by 23 at one point.
“We try to get better every single day, every single game,” James said. “When you do that and go out and play the type of game that you are capable of playing, you can be satisfied with the results. And that’s what we’ve built over the years.”
James said he didn’t need Stephenson’s words – the Pacers’ guard said the four-time MVP was showing signs of “weakness” by engaging with him during games – to get him motivated.
It didn’t do much for Stephenson, either. His first-half numbers: zero points, three fouls.
“I was trying to get into his head,” Stephenson said, referring to James. “I guess he stepped up and got the win.”
Added George: “Lance is young. … Sometimes you’ve got to watch what you say.”
George didn’t hold back, though, saying he thought the Pacers outplayed the Heat.
“They won this game at the free-throw line,” George said.
Miami was 30 of 34 from the foul line. Indiana was 11 of 17.
“You can’t overcome a 20-point differential in free throws,” George said.
Miami has won the last three games in the series, and going back to the point in Game 3 when the Heat trailed by 15, they have outscored the Pacers by 39 points in a span of about 6 1/2 quarters.
The Pacers won two elimination games in the first round against Atlanta, and need to win three more if their yearlong plan of topping Miami as kings of the East is going to become reality.
The odds are obviously stacked against them. When holding a 3-1 lead, Miami is 8-0 in Game 5s over the past four postseasons.
Bosh scored the game’s first eight points, making a pair of 3-pointers and ending a series-long funk. He had scored exactly nine points in each of the first three games of these East finals and was held under 10 points in each of his last seven playoff games against Indiana.
But he came out flying, and probably not coincidentally, the Heat finally had a good start.
“I told him he was going to have a great game,” James said. “We got off to a fast start because of him.”
Miami won the first quarter for the first time in the series, going up 27-19 and helped in part by a late 3-pointer from Shane Battier – with replays showing Vogel moved down the sideline toward the Heat forward as he shot from near the Indiana bench.
If nothing else, at least he was trying to beat Big Brother.
Much as he did Sunday, Vogel used the big brother-little brother analogy with his team, trying any way to urge the Pacers to break through against the team that has ended their season in each of the past two years.
“He’s got to make a decision at some point in his life, that no matter what, we’re not going to lose this fight anymore,” Vogel said, likening the Pacers to the little brother in that scenario. “We’re at that point.”
The fight isn’t over.
But it was awfully one-sided for long stretches of Game 4.
NOTES: Miami was without Chris Andersen, inactive because of a bruised left thigh. The Heat also tweaked their starting lineup, with Rashard Lewis in and Udonis Haslem out. … It was the 74th playoff game where James had at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists, passing Michael Jordan for the most in NBA history. … George passed Reggie Miller for the highest scoring single-season (including playoffs) by a player in Pacers history. Miller had 2,078 in 1989-90; George entered Game 4 with 2,077 points.