MIAMI — Lance Stephenson said prior to Monday’s game that LeBron James showed a “sign of weakness” by responding to his trash-talking.
On Monday night, those supposed signs were as invisible as Stephenson was for most of the game.
James scored a game-high 32 points to help the Heat beat the Indiana Pacers 102-90 at AmericanAirlines Arena, giving Miami a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
James produced at least 22 points for the 19th consecutive game, including all 13 playoff games. The superstar forward added 10 rebounds and a game-high five assists.
“You can never get too high or too low in the postseason,” James said, sounding very much like the anti-Stephenson. “But the difference was (Heat forward) Chris Bosh.
“I don’t need any (extra) motivation (from Stephenson). I have motivation enough trying to get back to the NBA Finals.”
Asked if he found Stephenson comical, James said he got a smirk out of it.
Bosh, who managed just nine points in each of the previous three games, broke out by scoring 25 points.
“As a scorer, you always want to see the first couple of shots go in,” Bosh said. “When that happened, I didn’t really have any emotion. I just wanted to keep it going, being greedy.”
Meanwhile, Stephenson had just one point through three quarters and finished with nine points, four assists and two turnovers.
“I have no regrets,” the Indiana shooting guard said when asked about his James comments. “I was trying to play ball. I was trying to get into his head. I guess he stepped up and got the win. I can take the heat. I can take the fire.”
Although Stephenson took the heat from the media, it doesn’t look as if he or his team will be able to take the Heat, who now have a commanding lead.
The series shifts Wednesday to Indianapolis, where Miami will try to clinch the series and advance to the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive year.
Miami, which never trailed in the game, is 7-0 at home in this year’s playoffs, 11-2 overall.
Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who scored more than 20 points in each of the previous four playoff games, was held to 15 points.
The Pacers were led by forwards Paul George (23 points) and David West (20 points and a game-high 12 rebounds). However, Indiana center Roy Hibbert finished scoreless in 22 minutes.
“(Hibbert) got some touch fouls that put him on the bench,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.
After trailing by at least eight points in the first quarter during each of the first three games of the series, Miami finally reversed the trend.
Miami won the opening quarter 27-19, and the key was Bosh, who had 10 points, all of them within the first six minutes. Bosh went 4-for-4 from the floor during that span, hitting a pair of 3-pointers.
In the previous three games, Bosh shot a combined 2-for-12 on 3-pointers.
The Heat, who committed no turnovers in the first quarter, also got eight points in the period from James.
Despite Miami’s strong start, Indiana rallied to cut its halftime deficit to 49-45. Considering the Pacers never led in the first half and trailed by as many as 11, it was a reasonable margin for Indiana.
West had 12 points at the half, and George had 11.
Miami outscored the Pacers 31-20 in the third to pull away, with James contributing 14 points in the quarter.
Indiana outscored Miami 26-22 in the fourth quarter but never seriously threatened. The closest the Pacers got late was 99-90 with 1:30 left.
Looking ahead, Vogel remains confident.
“I believe strongly we will win Game 5 and come back here for Game 6,” he said.
NOTES: The Heat made a lineup change Monday, starting F Rashard Lewis instead of F Udonis Haslem. It was just Lewis’ seventh start of the season and his first of the playoffs. He finished scoreless in 26 minutes. … Lewis earned the start by playing well in Game 3. Even though he went scoreless in that game, too, he played tough defense on Pacers F David West, and the Heat was plus-21 points in Lewis’ 17 minutes on the court. … Heat C Chris Andersen sat out Monday’s game due to a left thigh contusion, among other ailments. “He’s a human bruise right now,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. … Heat F Michael Beasley, a healthy scratch in Game 3, was activated Monday but did not play. … Even if there are mismatches defensively, Pacers coach Frank Vogel said before Monday’s game that he would keep going with his “big” lineup, which includes C Roy Hibbert and West. “We’ve got to punish them on (offense) better than we have,” Vogel said.
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