For the fourth straight year, the Miami Heat will represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals and to be honest, it never really looked in doubt … once the playoffs started.
Considering the Heat finished the regular season with a sub-.500 record in the last 25 games (11-14), you couldn’t have been blamed for not having complete faith in the two-time defending champions. But once the championship period started, they took care of when it mattered most.
Erik Spoelstra’s team swept a Charlotte Bobcats (Hornets) squad deprived of a healthy Al Jefferson but truth be told, it wouldn’t have made that much of a difference in the outcome. They dominated all ends up and LeBron James continued his assault on the history books by passing Larry Bird for the eighth spot in the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list.
Then came the big spending Brooklyn Nets, just like Paul Pierce wanted. Unfortunately for “The Truth,” they too suffered the same fate. Miami wrapped up the conference semifinal in five games and LeBron got yet another career highlight, dropping 49 points in Game 4 to tie his playoff high and lead Miami to a commanding 3-1 lead.
The Indiana Pacers were considered to be the Heat’s biggest threat in the East and following a double-digit win in the first game of the series, things looked like they were going to get a whole lot tougher for the reigning champs. Turns out it was merely speed bump. Miami rolled out three straight wins thanks to some excellent defense, contributions from the role players and the big stars playing to up to par.
Coach Spoelstra deployed the full court press on a full-time basis from Game 2 onwards and Indiana had no answer. It either led to turnovers and fast break points the for the Heat or simply ate up way too much time on the shot clock for the Pacers to get into their offensive sets; meaning they would often launch last-second desperation shots, run quick pick and rolls/pops with David West or isolation plays for Lance Stephenson and Paul George – none of which benefitted Roy Hibbert in the post. As a result, the big fella struggled to have much of an impact on offense as he did last year and George admitted that they didn’t do him any favors.
“I think it’s more on us, than Roy,” said the Pacers superstar. “Last year we did a great job of finding him where he needed the ball. In this series, we didn’t get to that.”
Miami’s bench players also showed up in a huge way. Rashard Lewis played great defense against David West, which led to him recording the two highest ever plus-minus ratings (+21 and +14) for a player without a single point, assist or rebound. Norris Cole sparked life into the team for a crucial Game 2 win in Indy, in addition to harassing Stephenson. Ray Allen continued to do what he does best and rifled in 3s to crush the Pacers’ spirit, while Chris Andersen did his usual energizer bunny routine, scrapping and clawing for every single rebound and point in the paint.
That sort of play had Chris Bosh singing their praise at the podium during the post-game press conference.
“It takes more than three for a complete team. We have the best teammates in the league. We have guys who come through in the clutch, in practice and in the locker room … just great all-around guys that always contribute and put the team first. That’s what makes this experience awesome.”
As for the “Big 3”, it was more like the “Big 2” with Bosh struggling to find his groove early on. He averaged nine points in the opening three contests, while James and Dwyane Wade did most of the heavy lifting. However, from Game 4 onwards he seemingly found his mojo again. He looked more like the All-Star we have come to know and love (or hate), putting up 23 points per outing for the rest of the series.
Indiana did manage to somewhat stun the Heat with a 93-90 win in Game 5, to keep themselves alive at 3-2. The more optimistic among us would have been hoping for a miraculous comeback and the sceptics would have thought they were simply delaying the inevitable, although no one expected the Miami Heat to be quite as dominant as they were in Game 6 to book their trip to the NBA Finals.
Simply put, Miami obliterated the Pacers, winning the game 117-92. Although it has to be said, the game was already dead and buried by half time.
Having trailed 9-2 early on, the Heat kicked it up a gear and outscored Indiana 22-4 for the rest of the period. The second quarter was a case of more of the same as they ran away 36-21 winners to take a 60-34 lead at the end of the first 24 minutes. And looking at the numbers, it’s really no surprise the lead was that huge.
They shot 60 percent overall, held Indiana to just 37 percent, dished out 14 assists as well as out-rebounding them 23-13. Yes, that’s right. The Miami Heat, the NBA’s worst team on the boards during the regular season out-rebounded the Indiana Pacers, a top five team. Who saw that one coming?
Incredibly, LeBron James told ESPN’s Doris Burke they could still play even better.
“We still have another level that I believe we can go,” said James. “We’re not satisfied with our performance. We played well. But we expect to play well and now we’ve got to expect excellence in the second half.”
Perhaps Miami should save that additional gear for either the San Antonio Spurs or the Oklahoma City Thunder when they meet in the NBA Finals come June 5. After all, both teams will have extra motivation as the Spurs will seek revenge for last year’s heart breaking loss while OKC will be looking for payback for the 2012 Finals.