That was a letdown.
After 6 games of intense, physically, downright spiritually uplifting Basketball between the athletic, artistic and yes, finesse Miami Heat and the blue-collar, bang you around and pound it inside Indiana Pacers, the eagerly anticipated, thought to be future classic game 7 was…
Before last night, This series was separated by a total of 5 points. Five of ’em. Take away a boneheaded defensive mistake here and an untimely offensive lapse there and the series might already have been over before Monday night. Both teams won a road game, which means the old adage of “a series never begins until the home team loses” was true, twice over. Fuck the records and the streaks and all the breathless pre-series proclamations of superiority, this was the very definition of an even series.
In either case, the story was laid out for all to see. If you are a stat guy, Game 7 brought about some rather curious numbers, ones we hadn’t seen in the prior 6 games. In a series in which Indian had shot 47% in the first 6 games, they shot barely 40% in game 7. After scoring 93 points a game against the Heat’s vaunted defense, they managed a meager 76 in the biggest game they’ve ever played with this roster. After crushing Miami on the boards for 6 straight games by a margin of 262-201 (that’s 10 rebounds a game), they were out-rebounded 43-36, 15-8 on the offensive glass. After getting to the line 40 more times through the course of the series (175 ft attempts to 136 for Miami), they managed just 20 ft attempts while the Heat put up 38, their high number for the season. What else? Oh yeah, 21 turnovers committed, 14 of them before halftime, by which time the game had already been decided.
Opinions on what happened in this game from those who watched it tend to be centered around the idea that Miami finally showed some real effort and brought their play to a level Indiana hadn’t seen yet. Well, forgive me if I’m not buying that as the lone (or even main) reason for why the Heat ran them outta town. Me, I saw a nervous bunch of Pacers that were, as unfathomable as it sounds after what we’ve seen in this series, completely overwhelmed by the moment. I saw alot of halfhearted, soon-to-be-intercepted passes, shots unsteadily guided at the rim and five pairs of bulging eyes said “get us out of here” when they should have been saying “let’s do this”. As funny as it was to watch a desperate Chris Bosh flinging shots off of the rim left & right in the first quarter, he finally managed to sack up enough to grab 8 rebounds, a number he had yet to even approach in this series. As great as Paul George has been in these playoffs, and as big of a hurry as the world is in to proclaim him the next big superstar, last night was a reminder that not only is he 23 years old, he is merely taking the first of many steps on the road to superstardom and in basketball, nothing like this can take place overnight. Not that George was by any means to blame for the collective egg Indiana laid in this game, but his 2 for 9, 7 point effort said alot about the difference between an elite player and a guy who is still growing into what he will become.
Again, this is what we see almost every year in the playoffs and yet the natural inclination is to forget the lesson until we are, as always, reminded. Fact is, winning Titles in the NBA is a process, and almost nobody gets to skip the line. All teams are subject to the steady progression of “loser-to-playoff fodder-to-up & comer-to-almost, but not quite-to-at long last, champion. While some teams may never reach that last step, almost nobody gets to skip any of those steps, save maybe the 2008 Celtics, constructed on the fly to win immediately, or the similarly built 2011 Heat, who had to take a public beating before growing up. Alas, as gritty and determined as the pacers were, they simply weren’t talented enough to transcend the natural order of the way things work around here.
However, the future looks pretty good. For one thing, the Pacers were carried to the brink of the NBA finals by 5 good players and a bench that, even in the kindest of descriptions, sucked ass. Having lost former star Danny Granger to injury and basically blown every off-season acquisition (DJ Augustin and Gerald Green have been brutal, Ian Mahimni merely no good) they made, the Pacers will now be in position to re-sign David West at a reasonable figure and still have enough left over to remake their bench. For a team that only needed to be a little bit better to win this series, they’ll have the tools needed to close that gap, provided they fare better than they did last off-season. Add a healthy Granger to the mix and there’s all the reason to believe that we haven’t heard the last of this bunch. Of course, there is no guarantee whatsoever that Indiana will be back. Ask the 2002 Kings, the 2000 Trailblazers or the 2007 Jazz about it. Sometimes, the one shot is all you get.
For the Heat, last night was all about survival and/or not falling down a hole, and survive they did. Now it’s on to the Spurs in what shapes up as a legacy series for both teams. For San Antonio, it’s a chance at a fifth NBA title and most incredibly, the opportunity for Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich to win a title together some fifteen years after their first. For Miami, the difference between winning and losing in this series could very well be the difference between one-hit wonder” and dynasty status.
Fuck, this series should be great. Tough to pick against the Spurs right now after they obliterated Memphis. SA’s gift this year is that they can play inside or outside, fast or slow. They were big enough to negate Memphis’ inside advanatge and fast (and spry) enough to corral Golden State after looking very slow and confused for about two games. This team can win every way and they don’t seem to have a pronounced weakness like Miami (boards, size) Memphis & Indiana (scoring, outside shooting) or Golden state (defense, coaching) all had.
And. Let’s not overlook that the Spurs just went 12-2 in the Western Conference draw while the Heat went 12-4 against a significantly weaker bunch of teams and while Miami sputtered and stalled their way into the Finals, the Spurs cruised in.
That said, beating LeBron is easier said than done. No, really. In lieu of some complicated breakdown of the Heat and their chances, it really is this simple. LeBron was good enough to beat Indiana more-or-less all by himself, and while the same trick won’t be possible against a team as good as the Spurs, an “on top of his game” Lebron gives them a great chance. All that would be needed is the most modest of contributions from the Bosh/Wade tandem and the rest of the role guys. If they can’t muster that much, they’ll be Dead Team Walking.
Whatever happens, one can only hope this series even approaches the greatness of the one we just saw. I’ll be crossing my fingers for that much.