Pacers guard Lance Stephenson blew in the ear of Heat forward LeBron James during Indiana's 93-90 victory over Miami in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday.
The unusual on-court interplay brought a smile and a shake of the head from James, who battled foul trouble all night and finished with a playoff career-low seven points.
"I'm just here to play basketball, man," James said during his postgame news conference. "All the extracurricular activities, I don't really get into. I mean, I'm just trying to win. We need one more game to get the Finals. That's my only concern. We put ourselves in a position to win tonight, and as competitors, as professionals, that's what we are. At the end of the day, we put ourselves in a position to win."
Stephenson and James engaged in some trash talk earlier in the series, with Stephenson telling reporters that James' participation in the conversations was a "sign of weakness." After replying with a big performance in a Game 4 victory, James said Stephenson's comments made him "smirk."
With the Pacers' season on the line, Stephenson pulled out all the stops in Game 5, entering the Heat's huddle and flopping on James at various points down the stretch. However, it was his ear assault that drew top billing.
"I blew in my wife's ear before, that was definitely a defensive tactic," James joked afterward.
Paul George, eager to get in on the wisecracks, added: "I hope [Stephenson's] breath wasn’t too bad for 'Bron.”
Pacers.com reported that Stephenson dodged any talk of his tactics by saying that he was "just playing ball." James seemed ready to move past the fact that he was the target of such a random approach.
"All the extra [stuff], whatever Lance wants to deal with, I don't really care about that," James said. "Lance is Lance. He's going to do what he needs to do to help his team win. [Dwyane Wade and I], as two of the leaders of our team, we're going to do what it takes to help our team win."
James finished seven points (on 2-of-10 shooting), four assists, two rebounds and three turnovers in 24 minutes.
Indiana coach Frank Vogel said foul trouble, not Stephenson's ear-blowing or his other annoyances, caused James' off night.
"[Stephenson] just competed. Nobody can stop or slow down LeBron," Vogel said. "LeBron got out of rhythm because of foul trouble. Just all of our guys, we just competed, as tough as we could, no matter who we were on."
Chris Bosh led the Heat with 20 points (on 9-of-21 shooting) and 10 rebounds, but he missed a potential game-winning three-pointer on Miami's final possession.
Stephenson posted 12 points (on 4-for-11 shooting), five rebounds and five assists. George registered a game-high 37 points (on 15-of-28 shooting), six rebounds, two assists and six steals.
The Heat lead the series 3-2. Game 6 is in Miami on Friday. Miami is seeking its fourth straight trip to the Finals.
Video via YouTube user outsidethenba