It's unusual for James to get involved in extensive on-court trash talk, but he engaged with Stephenson throughout the first half of the Heat's 99-87 win.
"To me, it's a sign of weakness," Stephenson said after the Pacers' practice 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 has guarded Stephenson occasionally in the series. Stephenson drew a charge on James in the first half as the Pacers built a 15-point lead. Shortly after the call, the players started yelling at each other, which their teammates and the crowd quickly noticed.
James said that Stephenson started it.
"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."
Stephenson has a history with James, dating to when he had to apologize for directing the "choke" sign toward him during the 2012 playoffs after James missed a clutch free throw in a Pacers victory. At the time, Stephenson was not a part of Indiana's rotation and made the gesture from the bench area.
He's become a much more vital player since and has been a factor in the series, averaging 17.3 points and 6.7 assists in the three games.
"I'll never back down," Stephenson said. "He's the best player in the league. I will refuse to back down to him."
James, who is averaging 24.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and six assists in the East finals, tried to downplay the back-and-forth between the two players.
"One thing I'm not going to do is give a story line of LeBron versus Stephenson, I'm not going to do that. I've already been involved in a LeBron versus Stevenson in my playoff career so I'm not going to do it," James said, referencing his past playoff rivalry with DeShawn Stevenson of the Washington Wizards and Dallas Mavericks.
"This is the Pacers vs. Heat."