James was called for his sixth foul. He held out his hands and stared, mouth agape and incredulous, from referee to referee, as if to plead for a second opinion. Then he trudged toward the bench, done for the night.

“I didn’t believe it was an offensive foul,” he said after the Pacers completed a 99-92 win to even the Eastern Conference finals at two games apiece. “I felt like I was stationary. Lance actually ran into me.”

In a league rife with conspiracy theories about officiating and star players getting preferential treatment from referees, James’s relegation to the bench for the closing moments of a playoff game was every bit as surprising as the Pacers bouncing back from a blowout loss in Game 3.

“Without him, they’re not the same team,” Stephenson said. “That helped us a lot.”

The only other time James had fouled out in the postseason was in Game 4 of last season’s conference finals against the Boston Celtics, a Heat loss that knotted that series at two apiece, as well. That instance, though, came in overtime.

As against the Celtics, the Heat would again falter down the stretch Tuesday night without their best player. After forcing a turnover on the Pacers’ ensuing possession after James’s foul, Wade passed to Shane Battier, who nailed a 3-pointer and appeared to cut the lead to one. But Wade was called for traveling. It was another call that drew quizzical looks from the Heat players.

“I have two kids and I need to put them through college, so I’m not going to respond to anything about the officiating,” Battier said. “It was a hard-fought game. We didn’t play well enough to win.”

In the postgame news conference, James, too, questioned more than just his sixth foul. He wondered about a call that went against him when he stepped in front of Paul George on a drive, and another when he was called for a push against David West in the third quarter.

“It was a couple of calls that I didn’t feel like were fouls on me,” said James, who finished with 24 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.

As the series has progressed, the officiating has become an increasingly popular story line. Before Games 3 and 4, the Heat faced questions about flopping, and James said it was a useful tool if it could give his team an advantage. In the Heat’s previous series, Chicago Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau said James flopped. Last year in the playoffs, Pacers Coach Frank Vogel was fined for accusing Miami of the same tactic.

In Game 3 against the Pacers, Wade appeared to exaggerate contact along the baseline when he fell out of bounds without much of a push. In Game 4, bodies continued to hit the deck, and at several points in the game the Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd chanted, “Beat the floppers.”

The Pacers also appeared to do a little acting of their own. Stephenson recoiled from contact from what looked to be a phantom elbow from Ray Allen as the two ran down the court. No foul was called.

“You just want to protect yourself,” West said of exercising caution when players are on the floor so often. “You don’t want somebody falling into your knee or legs or something like that.”

Heat players insisted that come Game 5 in Miami Thursday, there would be no mind paid to the referees.

“We just have to concentrate on what we can do, control what we can control,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said. “That’s something we always talk about. No matter how the game is called or what the pace is, if we do what we do we’ll have a chance.”

James agreed, despite his disappointment on a night in which he was forced to watch the game’s deciding moments from the bench.

“You would like to be out there on the floor, especially me,” he said. “Be there for my teammates, especially in the closing minutes when we have a chance to win.”