After years of conference finals surprises, the favorites won out. The Miami Heat defeated the Indiana Pacers 99-76 in a one-sided Game 7 victory on Monday night, earning the chance to face their Western counterparts from San Antonio in the NBA Finals.
The San Antonio Spurs, after nine full days off following their May 27 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, will attempt to dethrone the Heat in a Game 1 that tips off on June 6. The final round appearance will be the defending champion Heat’s third-straight trip to the Finals, while the Spurs will take to this round for the fifth time during the Tim Duncan era. San Antonio has yet to lose in the Finals since making its first appearance in 1999, though the team hasn’t reached this level since the 2006-07 season.
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Despite the blowout score Miami did not come out full of fire against a younger and thinner Pacers team in Game 7, as Indiana actually led the contest by two following the first quarter. Indiana’s inexperience and unfamiliarity with the stage, though, shone through; because while Miami earned this impressive Game 7 win, the Pacers did just as much on their end to ease the Heat’s run to the NBA’s showcase stage.
Indiana turned the ball over nine times in the first quarter and 15 times by halftime. The rash of turnovers appeared to clear up in the third quarter, but Indiana still managed to dig its particular hole further by making poor decisions on either end, while earning five fouls each for stars Roy Hibbert and Paul George by the time the fourth quarter started. Already a squad severely lacking in bench production, the Pacers just had no chance with its best players sitting with foul trouble.
Hell, they barely had a chance with their best players standing without foul trouble.
Indiana could have been encouraged by the fact that they led by two after a turnover-heavy first quarter, but instead the team made mistake after mistake on its way to a 33-16 second period in Miami’s favor. The Heat just began acting as if the Pacers didn’t deserve to be playing in the first week of June, and Indiana seemed to agree with the defending champs.
The Pacers stopped acting mindful of the defensive glass. It stopped talking defensively after offensive rebounds, off of broken Miami plays, or during delayed transition breaks for Miami. Indiana’s terrible offensive recognition rose to the level of both its lacking offensive game and Miami’s stellar defense: Indiana did not go to its bread and butter pick and roll plays, it did not attempt to take advantage of its size, and it hesitated on good shots in favor of either over-passing or refusing to confidently finish on good looks.
Paul George, the team’s hoped-for second star behind Roy Hibbert, had absolutely no plan when it came to attacking the Heat defense. Once again, he tried to break the malaise by either attempting imprecise drives or three-pointers that he hoped would count for ten. George ended up fouling out early in the fourth quarter, missing 10 of 14 shots on his way to 13 points.
[Watch: LeBron James finishes the alley-oop with his head at the rim]
On the other end, Hibbert (18 points, eight rebounds) was a victim of a lack of communication from his teammates, and some iffy calls. The Pacers guards failed to rebound with the same effort that worked so well for this team previously in the playoffs, which led to quick Miami hits off of offensive rebounds, while the Pacers compounded the deficit with a series of frustration fouls.
Indiana did everything it could to prove that even if the team does have the talent and most importantly the matchup ability to align itself on Miami’s level; they don’t have the temerity and know-how to seal the deal. Miami put the Pacers in this position, there can be no doubt about this, but Indiana embraced its second tier status on the road in Game 7. Which is an absolute shame, for an Indiana team that is a legitimate NBA Finalist.
In the meantime, in that short stretch between this conquest and what could figure to be another one-sided win over a too-rested San Antonio Spurs squad on Thursday, laud these Miami Heat.
The champs struggled to start, but you could never call them hesitant nor lacking in confidence. The team re-initiated a defensive attack that some prior to the Conference finals thought would bring Indiana to its knees in a potential series sweep, while keeping a deft touch offensively with both ball and player movement. The team didn’t try to destroy Indiana with daggers in front of the home crowd, either. Instead, it worked to get to the free throw line, while admirably attacking both the weakest parts of the Pacer rotation while attempting to decimate its strongest attributes in both Hibbert, George, and the Indiana dominance on the defensive glass.
The Heat responded to the challenge with equal parts effort and execution, with LeBron James’ mindful, steady insistence leading the way. They acted like champions, in Game 7.
As a result, the Miami Heat are four more wins away from getting to call themselves champions for a whole ‘nother year. All they have to do is down the dynastic San Antonio Spurs, and make Tim Duncan an NBA Finals loser for the first time in his career.
Something has to give, and we can’t wait.