Foul outcome all around for LeBron

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INDIANAPOLIS -- LeBron James staggered to his bench with a mixed look of amusement and bewilderment on his face, as if he'd just been the victim of some sort of practical joke.

"Can you believe this?" James said as he took a seat, his teammates eyeing him and not really sure what to say.

Actually, there was a word in between "you" and "believe" added for emphasis.

During a rather prolific period last season, James once went 250 consecutive minutes without being called for a foul. During a two-week stretch in 2009, he was called for a total of three fouls in nine games, including five consecutive games without drawing a whistle. A full week of NBA basketball without a single foul.

In seven of his 11 seasons, James has averaged fewer than two fouls per game, including this season, when he settled at 1.6, slightly up from his 1.4 last season. In his 153-game playoff career, he's averaged about 2.3 fouls a game.

It is with context that you can understand the shock and awe James was experiencing when he was yanked less than four minutes into the second half with the number five displayed on the scoreboard next to his foul total.

Never in James' career had he been called for five fouls in just 13 minutes on the floor. It never happened in his high school career, either. Same for his international career. Alas, the documents from Riedinger Middle School are incomplete, but if it did happen, James can't remember it.

Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals was certainly unusual, as James' historic foul trouble opened the door for the Indiana Pacers to capture a 93-90 victory and extend the series, which they now trail 3-2.

The last memory of this game probably will be those James fouls, perhaps unfairly more than Paul George coming up with one of the finest performances of his career when he blitzed the Heat for 31 of his career playoff high 37 points in the second half to save the Pacers' season. 

That or the image of Lance Stephenson -- who only Wednesday morning announced he had learned his lesson about trying to bait James with shenanigans -- blowing in James' ear during a stoppage in play in the second half.

In the locker room after the game, George wasn't watching the highlights of his two 3-pointers in the final two minutes that gave the Pacers their winning margin -- he was watching the slow-motion replays of Stephenson's latest maneuver aimed to annoy James.

"I hope his breath wasn't too bad for LeBron," George said.

"I blew in my wife's ear before," James said. "That was definitely a defensive tactic."

"That's the second time that's happened to you," said Dwyane Wade, remembering that Stephenson used the same tactic with James in the conference finals last season. Of course, Wade remembered, but then again, how could he forget?

Bottom line, though, is that despite those James fouls, the ear-blowing act and Stephenson's irking Heat coach Erik Spoelstra by joining a team huddle to eavesdrop, the game was tied with four minutes to play.

No matter how some in the Heat camp may have howled at a couple of the fouls James was hit with, when he was on the court for 24 minutes, he wasn't very good. He shot just 2-of-10 and finished with just seven points, the lowest playoff output of his career, circumstantial asterisk or not.

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