INDIANAPOLIS - LeBron James shot down the left sideline in a sprint, halting his dash only to avoid a collision with a table of reporters.
Called for a controversial offensive foul on a drive, Miami’s four-time MVP felt the game slipping away and ran nearly the length of the court in fury.
With under five minutes remaining, the defending champion Heat were down nine, and James was issued a technical foul for his show of anger at a lost possession.
With Miami’s Big Three reduced to a Big One, the Heat lost an opportunity, too. They now must win a Game 7 to advance to the NBA Finals for a third consecutive season.
The Indiana Pacers stayed alive in the Eastern Conference finals with a 91-77 win over Miami Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and will return to South Florida for a winner-take-all game on Monday.
Paul George scored 28 points and Roy Hibbert added 24 and 11 rebounds as Indiana survived a furious Miami rally midway through the second half and then pulled away in the final five minutes.
“We knew they would make a run,” George said. “That’s just us staying together, being poised. We shared the ball. We made huge plays when we needed to. It’s a credit to our guys playing their hearts out.”
James led the Heat with 29 points, seven rebounds and six assists but was mostly a solo performer as Miami endured a brutal offensive performance. The Heat shot 36.1 percent from the field and scored just 37 points in the second half. Indiana dominated the glass 53-32, including a 26-9 margin after halftime.
“We hate to be in this position,” James said, “but it’s an opportunity we look forward to. We worked all season to get home-court advantage. There are 30 teams that would love to have one game to advance to the NBA Finals. You can’t substitute this feeling, this atmosphere. At the end of the day, you just go out and have fun.”
The Pacers shot 50 percent and survived 21 turnovers to extend their season.
As in Game 5, the outcome turned on a third-quarter flurry. This time, it was the Pacers who opened up a nice gap, using a 14-2 spurt coming out of the locker room to take a double-digit lead and then pushing ahead by as many as 17 late in the period.
Miami trailed 68-55 entering the fourth after shooting 4-of-16 and committing six turnovers in a disastrous third.
“It was total domination by the Pacers,” James said. “We missed some very, very easy shots.”
Still, the Heat went on a 17-4 run over a stretch of 6:15 to pull within 72-68 in the fourth. They got no closer, and James’ offensive foul was a contributing factor. With 4:18 to play, James attacked the basket and collided with Hibbert in the air but heard the whistle blow for his second personal.
“That play right there I tried to alter the shot as much as possible,” Hibbert said. “The momentum could have shifted if he got an easy dunk.”
James disagreed with the call.
“I went straight up,” he said. “I didn’t throw an elbow. I went to a double-clutch. I have no idea why that was a foul. I ran to get away from the scene of the crime.”
More problematic, however, were the poor performances from co-stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. They combined for just 15 points on 4-for-19 shooting and committed five turnovers.
Miami’s late run came with the injured veterans sitting on the bench. Wade is playing through bruises in his right knee and Bosh sustained a sprained right ankle in Game 4 that has rendered him ineffective.
“We’re all behind them,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “If anything, it’s on me. I have to find ways to get both of them in areas where they can be comfortable and aggressive. They’re a major part of what we do. I know their character. Game 7, that’s when they come up big in these moments.”
George made a wide-open 3 from the left wing to siphon some of the Heat’s momentum and give Indiana a 75-68 lead with 5 1/2 minutes to go. He had eight rebounds and five assists in a fine all-around performance.
Hot shooting from outside spurred Miami to a 40-39 halftime lead, as the Heat made 7-of-9 attempts from 3-point range. James scored 14 in the half. The Pacers trailed 23-21 after one quarter.
The Pacers are 2-3 all-time in Game 7s, with their last win coming in the first round in 2005 at Boston.
“We’re going to have to play our best down there to win,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said.
NOTES: Spoelstra is attempting to become the first Eastern Conference coach to reach the NBA Finals in three consecutive seasons since Phil Jackson did so with the Bulls from 1995 to 1997. ... Indiana entered Saturday outscoring opponents by an average of just 0.7 points per game in the playoffs, yet had played only one game that was decided by three points or less. Twelve of the Pacers’ 18 postseason contests have been decided by 10 points or more. ... Pacers guard Lance Stephenson was issued a technical foul at the 4:01 mark of the first quarter after seeming to brush against James.