The Heat left no doubt last night as to who the best team in the East is. The final score read 117-92. The gap between the Heat and Pacers? Much wider than that. This is the third straight season Indiana has been eliminated from the postseason by Miami. The last two eliminations felt like progress. In 2012, the Pacers went up 2-1 on the Heat before falling in six games. In losing, they had announced their intentions to challenge Miami in future years to come. Last year, Indiana took another step, losing in seven games to Miami in the Conference Finals. In that series, we saw the best of Roy Hibbert, and discovered the next rising superstar in the league in Paul George. Strange how a year later, describing them in those words seem ridiculous.
While the Pacers can take solace in making back-to-back Conference Finals appearances, this time there are not as many great takeaways waiting for the team as they had into the off-season. Paul George may actually be the guy you want to be the second best player on a contending team, Roy Hibbert stopped being a center you could count on to do the simple things like protect the basket and rebound on a nightly basis, and Lance Stephenson— who will enter free agency this offseason—was whole other nightmare by himself. Bad Lance was on display as the guard got a flagrant for slapping Norris Cole in the face and tapped LeBron’s chin during a stoppage.
While the Pacers scramble to fix themselves internally before next season begins, LeBron and the Heat are off to their fourth consecutive NBA Finals. James scored 25 points, a total matched by teammate Chris Bosh. At one point, Miami led by 37. The ultimate self destruction of the Pacers felt inevitable throughout this playoff run. There were close calls against Atlanta and Washington in the first two rounds, but they survived. Game 5 on Wednesday in Indiana felt like the ideal place to have the curtain call on their strange season, but again, they found a way to play another game. But if anyone was surprised at how the Pacers went out on Friday, they shouldn’t be. The Heat were simply the better team in this series, and after a Game 1 loss and a near second defeat in Game 2, they outclassed the Pacers the rest of the way.
There are bigger goals for the Heat. Miami’s players were adamant post-game that they weren’t taking this victory for granted but of course that’s a preamble to much greater competition that awaits them in the Finals. They’re there again, and now, the Miami Heat has a chance to get a three-peat.
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