The Pacers put up a good fight, but you can't stand in the way of greatness for long.
With their legacy on the line, the Heat responded in typical fashion, a 99-76 blowout victory, giving them the title that everybody expected them to retain at the start of the season.
Eastern Conference Champions.
The Heat, as always, were led by their talisman LeBron James, who gave another display of dominance few players in the NBA can match. The NBA Most Valuable Player has dragged his team through this series as most of his supporting characters have let him down so far in this postseason. There are few, if any, players in NBA history who would feel comfortable guarding James one-on-one for 48 minutes, it's simply an impossible task. Despite only going 8-17 from the floor last night, James finished with 32 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists, largely in-part to his ability to get to the free throw line. James, realising just what was at stake, was aggressive from the opening tip and seemed to be getting to the line with ease. His power and speed is what sets him apart, always has done and probably always will, he finished with 16 foul-shot attempts, making 15 of them. This is LeBron's fifth visit to the finals, with just one ring to show for his efforts, not good enough for the greatest player of a generation. It's something that no doubt inspires and drives him, and will undoubtedly be looking to change when the finals commence on Thursday.
In truth, there was never any doubt on the outcome of this match-up after the first quarter, in which the Heat trailed by 6 at one stage and were behind 21-19 at the end of. It was a good old fashioned demolition after that, the Heat finally showing just why they are NBA Champions in a series where they have struggled greatly at times. The Pacers were simply outclassed, there's just no other word for it. The Heat blew open the game with a 33-point second quarter that the Pacers couldn't recover from. In order for the Pacers to have been as successful as they have, they have needed all of their stars playing at the top of their game every second they are on the floor. That wasn't the case in this game, Paul George was just 2-9, David West 6-15 and George Hill 4-14 shooting on the night. That would be hard to overcome against any team, against the Heat it would have taken a mammoth effort on the defensive end to overcome that type of shooting night. The main cause for their downfall, however, was their turnovers. It's been their Achilles heel throughout these Playoffs and their 21 turnovers in this game would be critical in the eventual outcome.
The occasion seemed to get to them, which is understandable as most hadn't played in a game of this magnitude before in their careers. They were constantly under pressure by the smothering Heat defense, who seemed to finally have an answer for the Pacers fierce interior presence during this series. The previous six games had been Roy Hibbert's rise to prominence. The 7'2 Center had his way with the undersized front-court of the Heat while also providing an intimidating figure in the paint for anybody attempting to get to the rim. The New York Knicks had the very same problem with Hibbert throughout the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, with the injury-hit Tyson Chandler struggling significantly against the former first-round pick. While Hibbert had another efficient night on the offensive side of the ball (18 points, 7-11 shooting), he was kept off the boards on both ends of the floor far better than he had been in any previous meetings between the two teams. with just 8 rebounds to show for his efforts, 2 offensive, the Heat's post-players can take great pride in their efforts on Hibbert, which went a long way to determining the outcome of this game.
The criticism of the Heat throughout the Playoffs was that they were too reliant on LeBron James to saddle the responsibility of getting them to where they wanted to go. When the 'Big 3' were assembled, this is not what was envisaged. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade have been far too eager to take a back-seat during the Heat's efforts to repeat this postseason, something that had to change. Wade had been very vocal in the media prior to this game, demanding more touches for himself and Bosh in order for the team to be successful. However, when the pair had been struggling so obviously, it was hard for anybody, in particular James, to count on them knocking down a crucial shot during a high-pressure game. Wade has been the heartbeat of the Miami Heat franchise ever since he was drafted 5th overall out of Marquette University in the 2003 NBA Draft. He has seen his influence deteriorate steadily since James' arrival but the Heat needed a big performance from him if they were to get over this daunting obstacle. Wade, as he has seemed to do throughout his career, turned in a performance of great quality when it seemed he was incapable of doing so. He finished with 21 points, 9 rebounds off figures of 7-16 from the floor. He was a perfect 7-7 from the free-throw line and despite 5 turnovers, showed that there is still life in those damaged knees that have troubled him throughout the season. They will need him to replicate this type of performance throughout the finals if they are to acquire the Larry O'Brien trophy for the second consecutive season.
Bosh's night, from a statistic perspective, was a little less overwhelming. This does not detract from his importance to this victory. Despite his modest totals of 9 points, 8 rebounds (3-13 shooting), he came up with 3 blocks and was a constant thorn in Hibbert and David West's side throughout the contest. Bosh has never been known for his defensive prowess and has sometimes shied away was the physical aspect of playing in the front-court. This game brought out the best in him, which always seems to happen when his critics are at their most vocal. Bosh could hardly be described as a media-darling, his sulky demeanor rarely changes and is there for all to see during his Interviews. This sometimes makes Bosh an easy target, seemingly taking the easy route to a Championship by pairing himself with two of the NBA's very best. Fact is, the Heat wouldn't have won this game without Bosh's stout defense, proof positive that you don't have to fill up the stat sheet to have an effect on a game. Bosh will have to elevate his game even further during the finals, coming up against the rugged Tiago Splitter and the ageless Tim Duncan. Both will be extremely well-rested and Bosh is sure to have his work cut out keeping them quiet. Whether he does so or not will go a long way to determining the outcome of the NBA Finals.
Ray Allen and the bench players of the Heat also played a huge part, which some may say a contribution that has been long overdue. Allen has just about seen it all in his storied career, which has seen him take Reggie Miller's record of 3-point shots made. He was lethal from beyond the arc in this contest, which has become Allen's trademark. He went 3-5, finishing with 10 points and 3 rebounds, which may not seem like much, but it's far more than the Heat have had off any of their role-players for some time now. Allen always has a big-shot in him, which may be needed in the finals as the Spurs will look to close all the lanes leading to the basket. A perfect scenario for Allen as he lurks, unguarded on the perimeter. There will no doubt come a time in the finals where Allen will be asked to take a shot that will change, or decide, the course of game. If history has taught us anything, it's that you wouldn't want to give that responsibility to anybody else.
As controversial as Chris 'Birdman' Andersen has been throughout his colourful career, he has been an absolute revelation since arriving in Miami. Andersen was shunned by the NBA for almost half the season, most teams claiming he was far too volatile to be of any use to them. The Miami Heat, desperately needing help on the interior, took the risk, one that has paid dividends and continues to do so. Initially signing on two 10-day contracts, the Heat saw enough in Andersen to suggest he would be of some use when the Playoff's came around and was signed for the remainder of the season on February 8th. Their faith in him has been rewarded, not that their haven't been some troubles along the way. Most recently, his game 6 suspension in this very series for an act of petulance against the irritating Tyler Hansbrough, a game where he was sorely missed as Hibbert ran riot. Andersen isn't the most cultured of players, he'll freely admit that himself. What he does do is put in 100% in every second he is on the floor. He is a menace and a constant irritation to anybody unfortunate enough to come up against him. Andersen's 7 points and 5 rebounds were just reward for 17 frantic minutes on the floor where he proved just how invaluable he can be in the upcoming finals. Duncan is sure to provide a stern test but the pair have clashed before and Andersen has gotten under Duncan;s skin a time or two, which would be fantastic news if he could do so again at any stage during the finals.
Despite their eventual and perhaps inevitable defeat, the Pacers can take great heart from their exploits in the Playoffs this year. They are a small-market team that doesn't get the attention of the mainstream media as much as it should throughout the season, which is probably the way they like it. Nobody gave them much of a shot of achieving much in the postseason, given their extremely difficult route they had been given. They easily disposed of the Atlanta Hawks, but that was as far as they were meant to go. They defied the odds the rest of the way, defeating the fancied Knicks 4-2 in an almost complete domination. While they didn't manage to topple the Heat, this experience will have done them the World of good as they look to progress even further next season. On thing is for sure, NBA teams, and experts, will be taking the Pacers far more seriously next season, that is assured. They have so many positives to take out of this season, the maturity of Roy Hibbert, who looks to be emerging as one of the top five Center's in the NBA. They have George Hill and David West, two valuable pieces capable of turning games on their head. They also have the NBA's most improved player and All-Star Paul George, who has become one of the premiere players in the league almost overnight with his electrifying performances on the floor. When you add Danny Granger, their top scoring option who missed most of the season with a knee injury, back into this lineup then there are few teams that could match the Pacers talent on paper. Frank Vogel must keep the hype surrounding this time down during the off-season or risk them losing their focus and identity. Every member of the Pacers roster can be proud of what they accomplished this year, even if it wasn't quite enough,
So, on a night that could have been a tense one, the Heat relaxed towards the end by taking out their core group, something that looked eerily similar to the scenes where they won the Championship a year ago. This time, there was no fanfare, some fans even choosing not to remain in the arena for the presentation. This was the minimum requirement for this team, they were a class apart throughout the regular season in the Eastern Conference, only the Knicks stealing some of the headlines during small portions of the season. This will be the Heat's third successive trip to the NBA Finals, a target they have reached every year since James and Bosh joined Wade in South Beach. When they presented themselves to the media after singing, during that ridiculous sideshow they now seem to regret, they spoke of "Not one championship, not 2,3,4,5 but 6 Championships", something that seemed ridiculous at the time. Now they could be on course for their second and will be overwhelming favourites against the Spurs, who won the Western Conference with ease. It is set to be another close series, the fact San Antonio has had so much time to rest their elder statesmen will no doubt be of great assistance to their chances. For the Heat, it provides another obstacle on the route to immortality.
James and company have been here before, trouble is that this isn't the Spurs' first time around the block either.
It promises to be a pulsating end to another staggeringly good season of Basketball.
Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_