Heat forward LeBron James was off to the races after he was whistled for an offensive foul during a key fourth-quarter possession in a 91-77 loss to the Pacers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday.
With a little more than four minutes remaining in the final period and the Pacers leading 77-68, James drove past Paul George on the perimeter and aggressively attacked the paint. Roy Hibbert slid over from the weak side to contest the driving effort and James' momentum carried him into Hibbert, sending the Pacers' center crashing to the floor.
The baseline referee whistled James for an offensive foul even though Hibbert was in the protected circle, at which point James went running away from the play and toward the Heat's bench at full speed. James was assessed a technical foul for his reaction, as was Heat assistant coach David Fizdale.
"I had to run down the court to stop from being kicked out," James said. "I thought it was a pretty bad call. I don't complain about calls too much. I thought me and Hibbert met at the mountaintop."
James appeared to initiate the contact on the drive with his right knee contacting Hibbert's midsection. Hibbert appeared to jump straight up but both of his feet were inside the restricted circle and his arms were not totally extended above his head before the contact was made.
"I didn't throw an elbow, basically I went straight up," James continued. "And I knew he was going to go high hands, like he had been doing. So I went to a double-clutch to try to let him go down. Then I was able to go over the top. I don't have no idea why that was called an offensive foul. So, you know, [running] just stopped me from being ejected. I think at that moment I just got away from the ref that called it."
James previously disputed four of the six fouls called against him during Miami's Game 4 loss to Indiana.
After the Game 6 foul call and subsequent technical fouls, Indiana closed the game on a 14-9 run to even the series at three games apiece.
Although the officiating has been a major point of discussion throughout this hotly contested series, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said James' foul shouldn't be at the center of the post-game discourse.
"We don't want the focus to be on officiating," he said. "They made the call. It doesn't matter whether we agree or disagree on how they get a call. We just want the focus to be on the players and the game. This is a very compelling series with contrasting styles, and now it comes down to a Game 7, and may the best team win. That's what it's about."
Hibbert explained that he was attempting to do a better job of providing help defense behind George, something he felt he lacked at times earlier in the series.
"I tell Paul, I have his back all the time," Hibbert said. "If he gets beat, LeBron has a large launching pad, I don't block a lot of shots all the time, but I try to alter it as much as possible and not to give up any easy plays. ... The momentum could have shifted right there if [James] got an easy dunk. There was what -- was it Game 3 here? I really felt that I let Paul down in terms of having his back when LeBron was scoring in the post or getting to the paint, because they stretched me out so much. ... I wanted to be there for [George]." James finished with 29 points (on 10-for-21 shooting), seven rebounds and six assists in 42 minutes.