For the third-straight season, the Miami Heat have sent the Indiana Pacers packing. Even after securing home court advantage through the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pacers simply weren’t able to get over the hump.
Miami started Game 6 slowly on Friday night, but ripped off a 22-4 run after trailing 9-2 to clinch their fourth-straight trip to the NBA Finals well before halftime. The final score, 117-92, made the Pacers look better than they were thanks to an eight-point edge in the fourth quarter when Erik Spoelstra played his starters sparingly. At one point in the second half Miami’s lead ballooned to 37 points.
The Pacers began the game by scoring nine points in four minutes, hitting four of their first seven shots. They would score just four more points in the first quarter, missing 11 of the next 12 shots they attempted. Indiana turned the ball over three times, not an exorbitant amount, but corralled only one offensive rebound on 14 misses and allowed the Heat to out-rebound them by six in the opening frame.
Meanwhile, Miami shot 50% and had six second-chance points. LeBron James, who typically sends out feelers and defers early on, had 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting while being defended mostly by Lance Stephenson.
Stephenson didn’t make things easy for James, who made a number of contested looks. Even with the toughest defensive assignment in basketball, Stephenson mustered 11 points of his own in the first half, but did little else.
After the first quarter, which saw the Heat take a 24-13 lead, we didn’t hear much more from James or Stephenson, who have become rivals only by media creation. The latter did his best to distract the former with his antics, but in the end the sophomoric actions couldn’t propel Stephenson and the Pacers any further than a sixth game.
Stephenson didn’t score in the second half and James attempted just five more field goals after a superb first period. He finished with 25 points, six assists and four rebounds on twelve shots. With a victory assured early and a ticket to either San Antonio or Oklahoma City punched, James sat out the fourth quarter.
It’s hard to believe that the Pacers once held a seven-point lead at American Airlines Arena, a place where they weren’t able to win all season and where the Heat haven’t lost all postseason. For a few minutes, Indiana looked like the aggressor, but Miami took the early punch and delivered the knockout blow with ease.
The Heat missed seven of their first eight shots before hitting 10 of their next fourteen. The run was one that the Pacers were never able to answer even though they rebounded with a better offensive second quarter -- 50% shooting, and two turnovers. Miami bested that effort with just one miscue, 70% shooting and a +4 rebounding differential.
The second half was little more than window dressing.
Miami wasn’t clearly the better team all season, but when it mattered most they were head-and-shoulders above Indiana.
Pushing the Heat to seven games last June, adding Luis Scola and C.J. Watson to the bench, swinging for the fences by importing Andrew Bynum and Evan Turner at midseason, earning the No. 1 seed and home court advantage -- none of it mattered.
The Pacers couldn’t even get to that seventh game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, which they spent all season talking about.
George’s Lopsided Effort
Paul George was dominant in the second half for the second-straight game, but unlike Wednesday night his points were meaningless. George had one point in the first half, going 0-for-6 from the field.
With the game decided, George made his stat line look much better than it was overall. He scored 28 points on 8-for-12 shooting, including 5-for-7 from three, with four rebounds and no turnovers in more than 19 second-half minutes. George answered the bell, and then some, to briefly save Indiana’s season in Game 5, but he’ll have to become more consistently dominant in big situations if the Pacers are to eventually slip past the Heat.
Stephenson Doesn’t Learn
Larry Bird told Lance Stephenson prior to the final game to stop antagonizing LeBron James, which he has been trying to do since Game 3. Stephenson played the role of good solider before to Friday night’s game, claiming that he would listen to Bird’s advice.
However, it was clear once the game got going that Stephenson, who will be a free agent, couldn’t help himself. He exchanged head taps with LeBron in the first quarter and was whistled for a flagrant foul (Norris Cole) not too long after.
Stephenson was one of the few Pacers playing with energy and urgency in the first, but you have to take the good with the bad and vice versa.
Model Against Miami
Aside from the Dallas Mavericks, who edged the Heat for the NBA title three years ago, no team has had any real success against the two-time defending champions. For all that has gone wrong for the Pacers, they have managed to beat the Heat eight times in the playoffs. Unfortunately for Indiana, those wins have been spread across three years and are propped against twelve losses.
In each of the three series these clubs have played since 2012, Indiana has had a nice size advantage. Roy Hibbert is one of the biggest players in the league and he looks even larger against Miami’s small frontline. He was a factor in 2012 and 2013, but continued an extended disappearance this spring with eight points and four rebounds in the season-ending loss.
The Heat shot better than 50% in four of the six games and had an offensive rating of at least 108 in all six contests against a team that endless prides itself on defense.
It’s not that the Pacers don’t have a handle on how they should go about beating the Heat, it’s that Miami is so good that Indiana hasn’t been able to consistently execute a winning game plan.