It wouldn't be a true playoff preview without a little post-game politicking for more favorable treatment from the officials.
The physical, high-intensity nature of Indiana's 84-83 victory over Miami on Wednesday was about as good as March basketball gets in the NBA, but the Heat weren't pleased with how the referees managed the action.
All told, three technical fouls and one flagrant foul were assessed. Lance Stephenson received two technical fouls for separate exchanges with Dwyane Wade, who in turn drew an offsetting technical during the first exchange. LeBron James drew the only flagrant foul of the game for elbowing Roy Hibbert on a drive to the hoop.
That flagrant foul came shortly after James himself absorbed hard fouls from Ian Mahinmi and Luis Scola in quick succession, both of which were deemed personal fouls rather than flagrant fouls.
"I don't want to fall into the pit of what's going on," James said afterwards, according to the Indianapolis Star. "Me and Blake Griffin, we take some hard hits. They call it the way they wanna call it. It's very frustrating though, very frustrating."
Late in the third quarter, Mahinmi wrapped his arms around James' neck as the back-to-back MVP drove down the middle of the paint, but the Pacers big man appeared to loosen his grasp after the initial contact, and James fell to the court. Then, early in the fourth quarter, James split the defense and attacked the hoop from the left wing, only to take a hard foul across the face from Scola.
Heat forward Chris Bosh took exception to both plays on behalf of his All-Star teammate.
"Our guys are getting punched in the face and clotheslined out there and we’re getting two shots,” Bosh said, according to NBA.com. "I guess we really need to decipher what ‘flagrant’ means. Because I don’t feel [the Pacers] were going for the ball. Especially in those two situations. If you can come down and clothesline somebody, I mean, it’s open season. People are going to get hurt. I don’t know, we’re going to have to revisit what ‘flagrant foul’ means to see if it’s even. But they had one and we had none, even though LeBron got punched in the face and clotheslined."
James' grievances, meanwhile, extended to his own flagrant foul, which came as he drove into the paint, where Hibbert was waiting to protect the basket. James' right elbow hit Hibbert in the face and the blow knocked him directly to the court. Hibbert initially tried to get up and walk but, in a somewhat scary scene, he quickly collapsed to the ground again. He would briefly leave the court to receive medical attention before returning to the game following a Pacers timeout.
"If I can jump up in the air and elbow someone in the face and finish a play, I must be a kung-fu master," James quipped, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
Indiana improved to 52-20 with the victory and took a 2-1 season series lead over Miami, who dropped to 48-22 with the loss. The victory kept the Pacers three games up over the Heat for the East's top seed.
James led all scorers with 38 points (on 11-for-19 shooting), eight rebounds and five assists in a losing effort. Wade tallied 15 points (on 6-for-11 shooting), four rebounds and one assist for the Heat.
Paul George led the Pacers with a team-high 23 points (on 8-for-19 shooting), eight rebounds and four assists. Hibbert added 21 points (on 7-for-15 shooting) and four rebounds in the win.