Indiana's Lance Stephenson
(center) had little impact in Game 4 against Miami. (Chris Trotman/Getty Images Sport)
There's no other way to say it: LeBron James made Lance Stephenson eat his words.
Stephenson said before Game 4 that it was a "sign of weakness" that James was engaging with him in trash-talk during Game 3, and said that he felt he was "getting under his skin."
Not quite. James finished with a game-high 32 points (on 13-for-21 shooting), 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals as Miami cruised to a 102-90 victory over Indiana on Monday. Stephenson, meanwhile, finished with just nine points (on 3-for-7 shooting), five rebounds and four assists. The brash, 23-year-old Pacers guard was held scoreless until he made a free throw with 4:33 remaining in the third quarter, at which point Indiana was already facing a double-digit deficit.
Despite those contrasting performances, Stephenson stood by his statements, noting that foul trouble kept him from getting a rhythm until the fourth quarter, when the game was already decided.
"I have no regrets," he said. "'I was just trying to play ball. I guess [James] stepped up and got the win. I can take the heat."
James, for his part, blew off the war of words.
"I don't need any motivation, I'm motivated enough trying to get back to the Finals," James said. "That's motivating enough. Being one of the leaders of this team, I have to do my job and do my part to help us win. That's what it's all about. Do I find him comical? Nah, I got a smirk out of it."
As James opted not to drag out the back-and-forth, players from both teams suggested that perhaps Stephenson should have kept his mouth shut.
Pacers forward Paul George was the most adamant in asserting that a little discretion was in order.
"Lance is young, that's a teaching point," George said. "That's a learning lesson for him. Sometimes you have to just watch what you say. You're on a big stage, everything we say is going to be bulletin board material. It's really going to have a powerful meaning behind it. We have to be smarter with situations and voicing our opinions sometimes.
"When you make comments regarding trash talking and just being caught up between another player in a matchup, you've got to bring it. You've got to bring it. I'm pretty sure a lot of people were going to be tuned in to see what Lance was going to do because of what he said. Maybe there's a lot of pressure on him, and everybody goes through situations where you just struggle. Just because of what was said and what was done, it just wasn't a good time for him."
George Hill agreed that perhaps silence was the best approach.
“The more we can just be quiet and just play the game, the better off we’re going to be," Indiana's point guard said, according to Pacers.com.
Heat guard Ray Allen, a 17-year veteran and two-time champion, saw Stephenson's comments as a youthful mistake in light of James' performance.
"He's a young kid and he's got many more years in this league," the 38-year-old Allen said. "That's a [lesson] for him early in his career."
Indiana coach Frank Vogel did stand up for Stephenso, who has been one of the Pacers' most important players throughout the playoffs, even as he has generated plenty of headlines for everything from getting into a practice "scuffle" with teammate Evan Turner to stating that he wanted to run Dwyane Wade around so that his knees would "flare up."
"I think once the ball went up, all that stuff was behind him," Vogel said of Stephenson's comments. "I don't think it had anything to do with [his play]. He got in foul trouble and didn't get in a rhythm."
The Heat now hold a 3-1 series lead over the Pacers. Game 5 is set for Wednesday in Indiana. Should Miami win, they would advance to their fourth consecutive Finals, where they would face either San Antonio or Oklahoma City.