(SportsNetwork.com) - The Game 1 win aside, the best the Indiana Pacers can seem to come up with against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals is some trash talk and excuses.
The defending champs beat the Pacers 99-87 on Saturday to take a 2-1 lead in the series, and the following day Indiana's Lance Stephenson made headlines with some observations about LeBron James, who engaged in trash talk with the Pacers' shooting guard.
"To me, it's a sign of weakness," Stephenson said to reporters on Sunday.
"[People] used to say that to me. I'm going to do something to get you mad. Now he's trying to do it to me. I feel like there's a weakness and I feel like I'm doing something right to get underneath his skin."
James did acknowledge that there was some trash talking between him and Stephenson, but he had no concerns about it having a negative effect on his game.
"I'm not much of a talker but I can," James said. "I don't ever start it but I can get involved in it and still keep my head. Winning the game is more important. I understand what the main goal is."
James let his game do the talking on Monday, putting up 32 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists, as the Heat went up 3-1 in the series with a convincing 102-90 win.
Meanwhile, Stephenson, who had just one point through three quarters and finished with nine for the game and blamed much of his struggles on foul problems, still defended his comments about James following the loss.
"I have no regrets," he said. "I was just trying to play ball. I guess [James] stepped up and got the win. I can take the heat."
Paul George clearly thought his teammate made the wrong choice in trying to get into James' head.
"Lance is young, that's a teaching point," George said. "That's a learning lesson for him. Sometimes you have to just watch what you say. You're on a big stage, everything we say is going to be bulletin board material. It's really going to have a powerful meaning behind it. We have to be smarter with situations and voicing our opinions sometimes.
"When you make comments regarding trash talking and just being caught up between another player in a matchup, you've got to bring it. You've got to bring it. I'm pretty sure a lot of people were going to be tuned in to see what Lance was going to do because of what he said. Maybe there's a lot of pressure on him, and everybody goes through situations where you just struggle. Just because of what was said and what was done, it just wasn't a good time for him."
George was not only vocal about Stephenson following the Game 4 loss, but also about how the officiating played a big role in the outcome and that the Heat got some "home cooking" from the referees.
"I thought we outplayed them," George said. "They won this game at the free throw line. They really just were able to get to the line more than we were, but I thought we outplayed them. I mean, you can't tell me we don't attack the basket as much as they attack the basket. You can't tell me we're not aggressive. Maybe we're too aggressive."
The Heat had twice the free throw attempts, going 30-for-34 from the line while the Pacers were 11-of-17.
"It's just demoralizing when [the free throws are] lopsided," George said. "I mean, I'm sorry to say, but that was the case. How rare is it we shoot 50 percent, turn the ball over around 13 or so times, outrebound a team and lose a ballgame? I thought we did a great job. I just thought we did a great job. ... But, again, they made 30 free throws, and that put them over the edge."
As far as I'm concerned, you're in a whole lot trouble when your best player is putting a good deal of blame on the refs in a game where you trailed by as many as 23 points in the fourth quarter.
George should be looking in the mirror for part of the problem and not making excuses.
After a solid performance in the Pacers' series opening win when he had 24 points and seven assists, George is averaging 18 points, 4.3 assists and 3.3 turnovers in the Pacers' three straight defeats, and is shooting just under 38 percent from the field, 30 percent from 3-point range and 61 percent from the line.
Even Dwyane Wade, who we constantly hear isn't the same player he used to be, has outplayed George by a wide margin in this series. The future Hall of Famer is averaging 22 points per game, while shooting a phenomenal 56.5 percent from the field.
The reality for the Pacers is they're not in the Heat's league, and as long as James and Wade can continue to play at their current level, Indiana will not be able to pose a serious challenge to Miami in the future with its current roster.