I guess the Heat responded Monday night. They played like the team they were all regular season, like the team they were constructed to be, and after a sloppy first quarter, methodically took control and blew the Pacers out.
Before the game, I told my buddy E-bro in ATX that logic dictated the Heat would win. The odds were far greater that LeBron either had a huge game plus help from his supporting cast, or just a really solid game and big contributions from his teammates, than Paul George going off and getting big lifts from the people around him. It didn’t take some great basketball IQ to make that prediction, but it turned out to be absolutely the case.
LeBron was magnificent, as he was during most of the series. Ray Allen hit some big shots during the Heat’s early run that put the game away. Chris Anderson brought his energy and changed the board battle in his return from suspension. Chris Bosh actually showed up on both ends of the court. And, amazingly, Dwyane Wade looked good for the first time in ages. Put all that together and the Pacers would have needed a perfect game to steal game seven away.
They somehow had the lead after an ugly first quarter. But the moment Miami ratcheted their defense up further and began hitting shots in the second quarter, the Pacers wilted and were done. Paul George wasn’t hitting, and neither was anyone else. For the first time all series Miami was controlling Roy Hibbert in the paint. Hyper Lance Stephenson showed up. And the turnover prone Pacers were extra sloppy with the ball. Miami played great but Indiana did themselves no favors all night.
There were two difference in the series. LeBron is unmatchable as an individual talent. When he’s on, he’s unstoppable. Paul George is fantastic, but still young and disappeared for stretches. LBJ will never fade.
The benches of each team are drastically different, too. The Heat are made up of highly accomplished specialists. Allen and Mike Miller are two of the best deep shooters in recent memory. Anderson is as good an energy and board crasher as you will find in the NBA. Norris Cole is a backup guard they absolutely trust in any situation. The Pacers, on the other hand, are a bunch of young guys looking to find their niche. Some nights they find it. But Tyler Hansbrough, DJ Augustin, Sam Young, Ian Mahinmi, etc. are no where near the class of the Heat’s role players.
And that brought a great series to an end. As a fan, whether interested in the outcome or not, you always feel a little cheated when a tight series comes down to a game seven and it’s decided before halftime. You want to suck every last ounce of drama from the teams. Win or lose, you want to talk about the series 20, 30 years down the road and say, “Man, do you remember that war between the Pacers and Heat back in ’13? That was some great basketball.” This will still be remembered as a great series. But the fizzle of an end takes away from its historical value.
I don’t feel like the TNT crew talked enough about how the Pacers were clearly constructed to give the Heat fits. In fact, I didn’t hear much national talk about that. Sure, we kept hearing about how the Pacers were huge inside and presented match up issues for the Heat. But I didn’t hear much credit-giving to the Pacers front office who clearly assembled their package of players with that exact goal in mind. It might be tough to get through the regular season. But come a seven game series with the Heat in May/June, the Pacers would be as well-equipped as any team to deal with them. Don’t forget, when you throw in the regular season results, the Pacers and Heat split ten games evenly. I don’t think another team in the NBA could have matched that.
A few big decisions ahead for the Pacers. Do they resign David West, who was as important as any player in their success but getting older. If he takes another two-year offer, I say yes. Beyond that, resigning him gets worrisome. What do you do with Danny Granger? He’s owed about $15 million in the final year of his contract, but hasn’t been healthy the last two years. With George’s ascent, Granger is clearly not the #1 option anymore. Do you keep him for a year and hope he can stay on the court and create room for PG to do his thing, then get the cap space next summer? Do you move him in hopes of getting another piece or two for the rotation, or to clear that cap space now and grab a free agent this summer? Finally, what is the future of Lance Stephenson? Do they really trust him to keep his head together and continue to improve and be a starter? Or is he a piece you sell high on and let someone worry about managing his risk?
Worst commercial, but far, of the playoffs is that commercial for, well I’m not even sure what it’s for. But it’s the one where the dad transforms into Kevin Durant overnight after watching too much hoops. While his son calls him out, mom fingers her wedding room and says, “Go play. Mommy’s got some things for Daddy to do.” Sure, moments later he’s changing light bulbs or cleaning gutters. But the implication is that he’s cleaning something else entirely. Creepy, weird, and in poor taste.
Finally, during last night’s game I was thinking about the difference between the NCAA Tournament and the NBA Playoffs. If your team loses, which is harder to take? KU fans will think for years about the 50 things that could have changed the outcome of the Michigan game and what happens beyond that if KU wins. Pacers fans will do the same with this series, but needing to win four games out of seven seems to change the pain of losing. NBA series have a more epic feel to them. There are chances to ebb and flow. React and counter-react. Pauses between games to recharge and rethink. An NCAA game is one night, one shot to win.
Your center has the flu and can’t play? Tough. Your point guard twists an ankle but is fine two days later? Too bad. Winning an NBA series is clearly harder but also less prone to flukey results. That doesn’t mean they aren’t filled with controversial endings, moments for goats and heroes, or the losers are filled with regret after. But at least you have a shot to correct and overcome bad moments in the NBA. The pain of losing in March is much worse than losing in the NBA Playoffs.