LeBron James and Dwyane Wade once again showed why they are the most feared tandem in the NBA, scoring a combined 69 points as the Miami Heat torched the Indiana Pacers, 105-93, at Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse Thursday night. Having won their semifinal series against the Pacers, four games to two, Miami now moves on to face the winner of Saturday’s game between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Final.
James’ and Wade’s were nothing less than a virtuoso performance, pulling away from the frustrated Pacers in the fourth quarter like Secretariat at the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Wade, ignoring the Indiana fans’ taunts of “flop-per, flop-per," quieted the room with a stellar 41 points and 10 rebounds, while James scored 10 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter to put the finishing touches on Indiana, who had seen their first half advantage wither in the face of a 13-3 Miami scoring run at the end of the third. In fact, that particular stretch has been the nemesis of the Pacers, with Miami outscoring them 85 to 49 during the series (16 Thursday night), and shooting a paltry 32 percent from the field.
Points in the paint were also very telling for the Pacers. In the first half, they scored 22 points inside. But in the second, they inexplicably retreated and, with the exception of big man David West, who almost singlehandedly fought it out inside en-route to scoring 24 points, Indiana largely resorted to perimeter shooting. In the critical third period, they hit only 6 of 17 from the field and added six turnovers. In fact, turnovers were crucial in determining the course of the game, with Indiana committing 22, resulting in 26 Miami points. Referring to the Pacers’ careless ball-handling, West remarked “We didn’t take care of it enough. They’re too good. They capitalize on mistakes. We just got too loose with the ball. They put pressure on you all over the court. We just made some bad plays.”
The Pacers got balanced production from their five starters, including West, Danny Granger and Paul George, all of whom scored in double figures. But their supporting cast picked the wrong night to be off cue, scoring only 13 points on 2-of-9 shooting. And Indiana backup guard Leandro Barbosa was as cold as Antarctica from beyond the arc, missing all nine of his shots from three-point land during the series. Miami’s second unit, by comparison, notched a total of 19 points – led by ex-Florida Gator star Mike Miller, who bagged four three-pointers off the bench.
After Miami’s Chris Bosh was sidelined with an injury for the Indiana contests, Wade and James faced the equivalent of crossing the Rubicon by taking their performance to a higher level. For instance, James at one point in the second quarter was poised to take an over-the-shoulder pass downcourt from Wade, and in narrowly missing an acrobatic dunk, flew headlong into a cameraman under the basket, leaving him gimpy and Heat fans holding their collective breath. Undeterred, however, he and Wade continued their torrid and often contorted scoring drives, together averaging 65 points over the six games – as opposed to Indiana, whose entire starting five averaged 63 over the same stretch.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel was philosophical about his team's fortunes in a post-game interview, where he also made a point of saying how proud he was of his team.
“Chris Bosh is an awesome basketball player, but when he goes down, that just means more touches for LeBron and Wade …That’s not exactly an advantage,” Vogel said. And in citing his team’s relative playoff inexperience and frequent miscues, he added: “I felt the guys were pressing a little bit too much … Some of [that] came from being a little too excited. A lot of these guys are new to this level of play, this level of the playoffs. It’s growing pains.”
Those “growing pains”, in addition to the vexation they experienced at the hands of Miami’s “dynamic duo” also led to six technical fouls – a hard but important lesson for a young Indiana team who shows every indication of returning to the playoffs in the coming years.