After the Indiana Pacers' 2012-13 season ended with a disappointing blowout loss to the Miami Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena, Frank Vogel's team dedicated its entire year — every offseason workout, every preseason drill, every shootaround, every walkthrough, every minute — to making sure they were the ones with home-court advantage, that they were the ones who would host the deciding game, that they would be the ones who delivered the death blow to their rivals to advance to the NBA finals.
It didn't work out that way.
The Heat destroyed the Pacers in Florida on Friday night, winning Game 6 by a score of 117-92, eliminating Indiana from the postseason for the third straight year.
"It's bitterly disappointing to fall short of our goals, and it's bitterly disappointing to lose to this team three years in a row," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "But we're competing against the Michael Jordan of our era, the Chicago Bulls of our era, and you have to tip your hats to them for the way they played this whole series."
Miami becomes the fourth team in league history to advance to four consecutive NBA Finals, joining the 1957-66 Boston Celtics of Bill Russell and Bob Cousy, the 1982-85 Los Angeles Lakers of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the 1984-87 Celtics of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.
Miami's Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have earned their way into that exalted company, finishing off their rampaging 12-3 run through the Eastern Conference playoffs with a dominant two-way performance that saw them shoot 57.9 percent from the floor as a team, hit 11 of 26 3-point tries, and lead by as many as 37 points before Indy's reserves winnowed down the lead in what the great Marv Albert would call "extended gar-bajj time."
"It was just one of those games that we always want to play, from beginning to end, here on our home court," said Bosh in a postgame interview with ESPN's Doris Burke after scoring 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting to go with eight rebounds and two blocks. "We wanted to make a statement."
And man, did they ever.
After a flat first five minutes in which they went 1 for 7 and allowed the Pacers to jump out to a 9-2 lead, Miami overwhelmed the Pacers on both ends of the floor, going on a 22-4 run over the final 7:53 of the first quarter to take total control of the game. They'd never relinquish it, thanks in large part to James, who came out determined to leave his fingerprints all over Game 6 coming off a disappointing Game 5 in which foul trouble limited him to just 24 minutes.
He played through Lance Stephenson's early attempts to continue bugging him, punishing the smaller Stephenson in the post and off the bounce and getting to the basket a handful of times in the opening frame. He scored more points in the first quarter (11) than he did in the entirety of Game 5 (seven).
"I thought LeBron really just imposed his will to start this game off," said Pacers forward Paul George, who scored the lion's share of his game-high 29 points well after the contest had been decided. "Every time he got the ball, he was ducking his head, getting to the basket, and he really just sunk his teeth all over this game. He was tough. He was tough for us to really just overcome."
He dropped a pair of dimes, too, using his dribble penetration and the attention it draws first to set up Rashard Lewis for a dribble-drive layup, and then to create an open left corner 3-pointer for Shane Battier to close out the quarter. He did it on the other end, too; he basically blocked this George Hill runout layup attempt with his mind:
Things got worse for the Pacers in the second quarter, as James' teammates got going in spades. Bosh got his full arsenal going, working Indiana's bigs on sharp dives in the pick-and-roll, by hitting jumpers on the pick-and-pop, with strong drives off elbow face-ups and with a banked-in straight-on 3 — hey, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good — en route to 11 points in the frame. Wade knocked in a pair of jumpers and got a runout layup off a James feed to pitch in seven. Chris Andersen celebrated his return from the injured list with his trademark boundless energy on the glass and on the interior, adding eight points and eight rebounds in just nine first-half minutes.
While LeBron was baring his fangs, the Pacers' offense stagnated in familiar, comparatively toothless fashion. This time around, the brand of live-ball turnovers that activated Miami's lethal transition game weren't the culprit; the Pacers mostly took care of the ball, coughing it up just five times (leading to seven Heat points) in the first half and only 12 times (leading to 16 points) overall. They even generated some decent open looks in the half-court against the Heat. They just couldn't hit any of them.
Aside from David West and Stephenson, who combined for 23 points in 10-of-15 shooting through two quarters, no Pacer could throw the ball in the ocean in the first half. Hill opened the game 1 for 7. Roy Hibbert continued his post-Game 1 struggles with a 1 for 3 start. But nobody had it worse than George, who followed up his scintillating Game 5 second half by missing his first six shots and entering halftime with only one point.
Continuing a series-long theme that saw the Heat roast the league's No. 1-ranked regular-season defense to the tune of 114.3 points per 100 possessions — which would have ranked far, far above the Los Angeles Clippers' top offensive efficiency mark this season — Miami had no such trouble converting their opportunities.
"You know, they came out hot, and it was hard to just slow them down and get a stop, because they was making everything, it felt like," George said. "That's where this game was lost."
By the halfway point of the second quarter, Miami led by 20. A straight-ahead pick-and-pop 3 by Lewis off a James feed pushed the lead to 26 with two minutes remaining in the half, and that's where it stayed at intermission, with Miami utterly dominating en route to a 60-34 advantage. A 15-3 mid-third-quarter run pushed the lead over the 30-point plateau, and the rout was on; the only question was how big the final margin would wind up being, and how long Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra would leave his starters in the game.
James finished with 25 points on 8-for-12 shooting, six assists, four rebounds, one steal and one block. Lewis — barely used throughout the regular season, a DNP-CD for the first two games of this series, and suddenly the top option to fill the space-the-floor, offer-defensive-versatility role previously occupied by the likes of Mike Miller, James Jones and Shane Battier — chipped in 13 points in 25 1/2 minutes, knocking down another three triples in seven tries. Wade added 13 points, six rebounds and six assists in 25 pretty breezy minutes. Every single member of the Heat's active roster got into this game ... including former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden, who saw his first action since the final day of the regular season, and was the first Heat player to hoist the Eastern Conference championship trophy.
West added eight rebounds, two steals, two assists and a block to his 29 points, while West finished with 16 points and four rebounds in just under 34 minutes before fouling out. Stephenson's much-discussed series ended with deafening silence; he failed to score a single point after being charged with a flagrant foul-1 for hitting Heat point guard Norris Cole in the face at the 8:47 mark of the second quarter, and finished with a quiet 11 points in 36 1/2 minutes. It was, in some respects, a perfect end to what had become an utterly unpredictable, unreliable, schizophrenic season over the last 3 1/2 months, an abominable final act that somehow managed to be a massive, flaming trainwreck and a muted, underwhelming whimper at the same time. For the fourth straight summer, Indiana will go back to the drawing board and try to come up with a way to topple the best team in their conference.
And for the fourth straight June, the Heat will be vying for the Larry O'Brien trophy. Their quest for a third consecutive NBA championship will begin next Thursday night, against either the Oklahoma City Thunder, whom they beat in five games for their first title in June 2012, or the San Antonio Spurs, whom they outlasted in a classic seven-game series last summer to become back-to-back champions.
Whichever team comes out of the West will surely pose a significantly stiffer challenge than Indiana did on Friday, but the Heat will have a full five days to get ready for that. For now, as multiple players and coaches said, they'll take nothing for granted, appreciating adding yet another historic achievement to the list for what has become a team for the record books.
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