LeBron James' ongoing beef with Lance Stephenson continued on Friday, with the former calling the latter "a little dirty" after their latest squabble late in the Pacers' 97-95 triumph over the visiting Cavaliers.
The two jostled with 7:53 remaining in the fourth quarter after Stephenson deflected James' dribble out of bounds. James then drew a technical foul for shoving Stephenson as he bodied up the 13-time All-Star on the ensuing inbound pass.
James dominated with 27 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists but was unable to prevent the Cavaliers from blowing a 22-point deficit. Stephenson finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
James blamed himself after the game for "retaliating" against Stephenson's physical play, but couldn't resist insulting his long-time foil in the process.
"Lance just a little dirty, that's all," James said. "He a little dirty. But we got history ... so I should have known that. I’ve known since school, it’s not the guy who tells the joke that gets caught, it’s the guy who laughs. They caught me on a retaliation. But he played well tonight."
That history dates back to at least 2012, when Stephenson made the choke sign after James missed a free throw for the Heat in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Stephenson apologized, but former Pacers star Danny Granger later alleged that the stunt aggravated the Heat so much that Udonis Haslem, Juwan Howard and Chris Anderson tried to confront Stephenson in the Pacers locker room during an off day.
It was the first of three straight postseason meetings between the two teams, all won by James' Heat. Stephenson sought to irritate James at seemingly every opportunity, including an incident that launched a thousand memes: Stephenson's infamous ear-blowing stunt in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals.
Stephenson's career bottomed after those matchups as he bounced between five different teams before rediscovering his game with the Pacers. The one thing, however, he seems to never have lost: The ability to aggravate LeBron James.
"I'm not trying to be the other team’s friend," Stephenson said. "I’m trying to be my teammates’ friend and when I’m playing against guys … I want to kick your butt."