They should. Because a season’s worth of issues the Heat have struggled to overcome for months combined to derail them in one night on the way to Wednesday’s 84-83 loss to the Indiana Pacers. The biggest source of the Heat’s frustrations was the physical play they felt benefited the Pacers.
James scored a game-high 38 points and had a season-high 15 attempts from the free throw line, but took issue with some rough play and hard fouls he believed should have gone his way in the game. James was assessed a flagrant foul with 8:47 left in the fourth quarter, when he drove to the basket and extended his elbow into Roy Hibbert’s face while attempting to finish at the rim.
Earlier in the game, officials reviewed two hard fouls committed on James but ultimately determined that both were common fouls and didn’t rise to the level of excessive contact. The Heat have expressed concerns throughout the season and have contacted the league office about what they believe are frequent cases of hard contact James takes during games that either aren’t called or should be ruled flagrant.
“I don’t want to fall into the pit of what’s going on,” a dejected James said Wednesday. “But between me and Blake Griffin, we take some hard hits. They call it how they want to call it. It’s very frustrating. Very frustrating. As a player, you play the game the right way and sometimes it just don’t fall your way.”
James was referring to the Los Angeles Clippers All-Star power forward, who ranks among the league’s leaders in fouls committed against and is third in the NBA in free throw attempts. James, who ranks ninth in the league in free throw attempts, made 14 of 15 shots from the line against the Pacers.
Indiana is annually one of the best defensive teams in the league and has a reputation for its physical style of play. But on Wednesday, the Heat (22) were called for more fouls than the Pacers (21) despite holding a 29-21 edge in attempts from the free throw line for the game.
James said he was stunned that his offensive foul was ruled a flagrant, and said he had no intent to connect with Hibbert’s face on the layup attempt. Hibbert rolled on the court for several seconds and was eventually helped to his feet by team trainers. He then fell back to the court but got up and shot two free throws before he was taken to the locker room to treat a cut on his tongue.
Earlier in the game, James drove into the lane against Hibbert and the two collided as the Pacers center attempted to block the shot. But no foul was called and on the play. James denied his elbow that caught Hibbert in the face in the fourth was in retaliation to the earlier hard fouls that sent him to the line.
“If I could jump in the air, elbow somebody in the face and still try to finish the play, I must be a kung fu master or something,” James said. “[Hibbert’s] face happened to hit my elbow, or my elbow happened to hit his face. It’s crazy.”
Heat forward Chris Bosh said Indiana players targeted James with deliberately hard fouls, including one when he was shoved in the back by Indiana forward Ian Mahinmi under the basket and another when he was struck in the face by Luis Scola on an attempted block. Both fouls committed by Mahinmi and Scola were initially called flagrant but we're reviewed and downgraded to common fouls.
“Our guys are getting punched in the face, man. You know what I’m saying?” Bosh said after the game. “We’re getting punched in the face and clotheslined. And we’re getting two shots. And we get an offensive foul called and it’s a flagrant. I guess maybe we need to really decipher what flagrant means, because I don’t feel that they were going for the ball. If you come down and clothesline somebody, it’s open season. And people are going to get hurt. LeBron got punched in the face and clotheslined.”
The Heat also did plenty to hurt themselves down the stretch.
The Pacers scored 26 points off Miami’s 19 turnovers, seven of which the Heat committed in the fourth quarter. The Heat also lost Wade in the final two minutes after he tweaked his left hamstring while chasing Evan Turner in the open court after a turnover. Miami had just one field goal in the final three minutes of the game. Bosh missed a potential game-winning jumper on a shot with two seconds left.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra put the blame on himself for the final play call that was designed to give Bosh an open look on the perimeter. But there wasn’t enough time for the set to develop.
“Unfortunately, that is what I diagrammed,” Spoelstra said. “It probably wasn’t the best call and might be a little bit too gunslinger. With the game that LeBron had, obviously, you’d want to get him the ball.”
James, who caught the inbounds pass and whipped the ball directly to Bosh, declined to elaborate when asked about his thoughts on the play call.
“That’s the play we drew up,” James said in a hushed tone. “We ran a play.”
Bosh said it was the latest example of the offense bogging down late in games and is a problem that needs to be reevaluated.
“I think we need to look at our sets,” Bosh said. “We had so many empty possessions where we just didn’t even get any movement, anything we wanted. We were looking for the wrong things. We didn’t get our guys in the right spots and we were anticipating that things were going to be there instead of reading and reacting.”
It certainly didn’t help that Miami was without one of its main offensive options late in the game. The Heat led 80-79 when Wade left the game. Indiana scored the next four points to pull ahead. Wade finished with 15 points in his first game back from a two-game absence with a strained Achilles.
Wade’s status is uncertain for Friday’s game in Detroit.
“I felt spasms and cramping, so I just had to get off it,” Wade said of his left leg. “We were playing a good game the last minute and a half. That’s winning time, so it’s very tough sitting over there. I thought my teammates got good opportunities. It just didn’t happen for us. I tried, but once it cramps up, it’s not going to stop right away.”