Game 4 marked just the fifth time LeBron James has fouled out of an NBA game during his 10-year career and just the second time he has fouled out since joining the Heat in 2010. James did not go quietly, taking exception to four of the six fouls called on him during a 99-92 loss to the Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday.
James received his sixth foul with 56 seconds to play in the fourth quarter when he was whistled for setting an illegal screen on Lance Stephenson. He attempted to set a screen for Dwyane Wade at the top of the key and approached Stephenson from the left. James stuck out his left leg and stepped on Stephenson's left foot as the Pacers' guard attempted to fight over the top of the screen. Wade crossed over from his right to his left, ignoring the screen, but James was whistled for his sixth foul anyway, necessitating the automatic ejection.
"I didn't believe it was an offensive foul," James told reporters. "I was going to set a screen, and I felt like I was stationary. And D‑Wade rejected the pick‑and‑roll. Lance actually ran into me."
James also disputed three other foul calls assessed to him earlier in the game.
First, his foul on David West with two seconds remaining in the third quarter, which occurred near the baseline after the Heat gathered a defensive rebound. West defended James in the backcourt to prevent a quarter-closing heave and James responded with a left elbow swing to clear space. Replays seemed to indicate that there was minimal contact, although West reacted as if he had been struck.
Second, his foul on Roy Hibbert with 7:07 left in the fourth quarter, which occurred as the Pacers' center executed a spin move as he entered the paint while James attempted to take a charge. The baseline referee initially whistled Hibbert for an offensive foul, as James fell to the floor, but the near-side referee at midcourt overruled that decision, apparently calling James for slapping down on the ball before Hibbert rose up for the shot attempt.
Third, his foul on Paul George with 5:37 remaining in the fourth quarter, which occurred as the Pacers' forward attacked the basket from the left baseline. James came over from the weak side to contest the drive. George's left arm and James' chest appeared to come into contact before George adjusted to complete the basket on a second-effort shot.
"I believe I was straight up and down on Paul George's drive, on the and‑one," James said. "They reversed a call with Hibbert, called a foul [on] me on that one. And at the end of the third [quarter] they called a push‑off on David West. ... It was a couple of calls that I didn't feel like were fouls, personal fouls on me. That's how the game goes sometimes."
The Pacers led 96-92 when James was ejected, and the Heat didn't score again. Miami conceded a 13-3 run in the game's final five minutes. James left Game 4 with a game-high 24 points (on 8-for-18 shooting), six rebounds and five assists in 43 minutes.
"You would like to be out there on the floor, especially me," James said. "Be there for my teammates, especially in the closing minutes when we have a chance to win. Wasn't able to do that."
Before Tuesday, James' only other ejection with the Heat came during a 93-91 overtime loss to the Celtics in Game 4 of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals. He has now been whistled for five or more fouls twice in this series; he was whistled for five fouls only once during the regular season.
"Last time LeBron fouled out of a playoff game was last year in Boston," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "So it doesn't happen very often. ... You have to overcome a lot in the playoffs. It's not easy to compete for a title. So we just went to other guys, and at end of the day we still had an opportunity."
Game 4 was the second tough moment in the series for James, who committed two turnovers in the final minute of a Game 2 loss after hitting the game-winning buzzer-beater in a Game 1 overtime victory.
Hibbert led the Pacers with 23 points (on 10-for-16 shooting) and 12 rebounds. Indiana's win evened the series at two games apiece. Game 5 is Thursday in Miami.