Indiana can’t drag Heat to Game 7


VIDEO: Heat dismantle Pacers in decisive Game 6

MIAMI – In a ranking of the saddest, most enduring symbols of unrealized ambition in NBA history, it’s difficult to top the rafters of Los Angeles’ fabulous Forum in the spring of 1969, filled with multi-colored balloons that never were allowed to drop.

The balloons had been loaded up there on orders from Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke, convinced that his team would win Game 7 of The Finals over the dynasty-in-decline Boston Celtics. Only the proud Celtics noticed, dialed up their focus – Bill Russell said he wanted to watch the show of Forum workers taking them down one by one – and, on the Lakers’ home court, grabbed the championship Cooke had presumed was his.

Forty-five years later, the Forum and its balloons have some company now in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Not just the rafters – the whole empty, lonely place, site of a never-to-be-played Game 7 of the 2014 Eastern Conference finals.

The Miami Heat rendered that game unnecessary, lights out, doors locked, by dismantling the Pacers in Game 6 117-92 and ending the best-of-seven series without the trip back to Indy. Miami beat the Pacers in all ways basketball – leading by 37, shooting 58 percent and hanging 117 points on what had been the league’s No. 1 defense, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh refusing to lose.

Miami beat them physically and mentally, too, from Shane Battier pushing a forearm across wild child Lance Stephenson‘s throat to put him on the floor to veteran Udonis Haslem threatening Stephenson from the bench in a GIF widely circulated on social media during the drubbing.

Unspoken, though, was how the Heat deprived Indiana of the essence of its entire season.

From the start of training camp – really, from the moment they trudged off the court in south Florida at the end of last year’s ECF, so similar to Friday’s outcome – the Pacers had targeted the East’s No. 1 seed for the home-court advantage it would bestow. Specifically, they wanted to know, if they locked up with the Heat again for the right to advance to The Finals, Game 7 would be at BLFH this time.

It would have been.

Only the Pacers never made it happen.

There were reasons great and small why it didn’t last the max, why Indiana never got a chance to flex a home-court advantage that, let’s be honest, had fizzled anyway (the Pacers went 35-6 at BLFH during the season, then 5-5 in the playoffs). Stephenson’s mouth and antics might not have affected the Pacers – so his teammates claimed – but they sure seemed to put a face on Miami’s quest to reach its fourth consecutive Finals.

There was Roy Hibbert‘s big fade, an 8-point, 4-rebound performance on a night that the Heat made sure wasn’t his. Miami’s use of Bosh and Rashard Lewis in a stretch-5 attack in which everyone is a deep shooting threat pulled thwarted Hibbert’s 7-foot-2 size advantage even more thoroughly than Atlanta had (with lesser players). Defensively the Heat found way to make Hibbert just as uncomfortable and then the big fella’s sensitive side took over, completing the task. The guy who averaged 22.1 points and 11.4 rebounds while shooting 55.7 percent in last year’s ECF against Miami slumped to 10.8, 7.7 and 41.5 percent.

The most important, elephant-in-the-room-sized reason, though, was that Indiana could not crack Miami’s code. It doesn’t have the star power, barely has the manpower and never could rise to the occasions – five players tied together as one – for any sustained success.

As bad as Game 6 was, and it was stenchified, the Pacers admitted afterward that their troubles in the series began in Game 2, which had slipped away late, pilfering the home court right there and squandering their chance to put the Heat in a 2-0 hole.

That was a mistake. Getting reckless with the ball and blowing a big lead in Game 3, another mistake. Game 4? A wire-to-wire mistake. Roll them all together and you get a team that wants to chase championship vs. a team that already owns two and is aiming for three.

“Everything starts and ends with the Miami Heat,” forward David West said. “You have to have a team that can survive and get you through a tough regular season, but ultimately you’ve got to be able to beat Miami to get to The Finals.

“This whole year, we competed to get to this moment. We just weren’t able to come through it. They’re built for these moments. Their pedigree shows in these moments, just how everybody on their team does their job. Particularly in these moments, they do it at a high level. They don’t have any breakdowns.”

Indiana has flaws and challenges. Bidding to retain free agent-to-be Stephenson, and at what price, will be a pressing one, requiring guesses as to how his psyche melds with a multimillion-dollar, guaranteed contract. Rounding up some perimeter shooting seems a must.

Coach Frank Vogel might need to find himself a new “bad cop” on the bench to keep the pressure on a squad that got too easily satisfied along the way. And basketball boss Larry Bird is going to have to get back on the horse after being thrown not once (Andrew Bynum signing) but twice (Evan Turner trade).

Here’s the trickiest part: James isn’t retiring anytime soon. What players such as Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and others went through being born too close to Michael Jordan‘s birth date, the Pacers are facing with regard to Miami’s best player and the team on which he romps.

“We’re in the LeBron James era,” West said after the game. “We fully understand that.”

West likened James to Shaquille O’Neal, another player whose size and skill set warped normal games. Beating James and the Heat, same as beating the big man, requires better personnel (to counter James’ many styles), a deeper roster (to dole out fouls when needed) and a resolve to pull it together. Oh, and one more thing …

“They’ve got that gear that continues to elude us in the moment,” West said. “We can compete in the year, tough and well enough, to beat them for the top seed. But in these moments, the Game 2 moments, this Game 6 moment, it just eludes us.”

A fair question from Pacers fans and NBA followers would be: For how long? West, Vogel and the others felt their team took a considerable step this season, running down that No. 1 seed, winning 56 games and beating better opponents in the first two rounds than a year ago.

Still, getting bounced by Miami for a third consecutive season has gotten old, and the Pacers will need to make sure their act has not.

Earlier in the series, on an off-day, Donnie Walsh – longtime Indiana exec who serves now as a consultant – talked of the 1997-2000 Pacers, Reggie Miller-led and Larry Bird-coached. After the first edition of Shaq’s and Kobe Bryant‘s Lakers beat them for the title, on the heels of two misses in the East finals, Bird told Walsh that Pacers group had nothing left. Changes were made, not the least of which was Bird hanging up his whiteboard, and by the time Indiana reached the 2004 conference finals, the roster had been remade.

West said he didn’t think this squad is at that point, though he understood why the question might get asked. This league has a history, too, of excellent also-rans that never quite broke through.

“We’re in the midst of that,” West said. “This is the third year that they’ve knocked us out, two straight years in the conference finals. It can’t deter us. It can’t deter us from the work we know is ahead of us.”

That’s for the long term, gearing up again in October with a focus on May.

Short term, there will be a big, empty field house in downtown Indianapolis Sunday evening. It was supposed to be the Pacers’ partner, alive and loud and stomping on the clutch so they actually could find that elusive gear.

Instead, it will be dark, a reminder of what could have been and a variation on Hemingway’s shortest saddest story ever (“For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn”).

The sign will be posted there in spirit. “Home court, Game 7: Never needed.”

13 Comments

  1. LeBron the GOAT says:

    The Pacers biggest mistake this season was trading Danny Granger. Granger was the emotional leader that gapped the bridge btwn Paul George and Roy Hibbert. I liken the trade of granger to the trade the Celtics made for Perkins. The celtics lost that Toughness and Garnett’s age finally started to show. When granger was traded you saw Paul George let the “Superstar” title go to his head. Even though they were winning, they werent that resilient team that pushed the Heat to game 7. Had granger been there i dont think the questions of Indy’s bench would have been there. Indy needs a veteran PG and sit G Hill on the bench. As for Hibbert, somebody call Royce White for his doctor’s number. I think the worst thing the Pacers did to damage his already fragile ego was to go out and sign Bynum, then abuse Bynum when he was on the floor and utilize Hibbert the same way. I think when Roy saw the way they were force feeding Bynum, he kind of took offense to it as if Bynum was to be his replacement in the big moments. I believe big cganges will be coming this offseason for the pacers.

    In other news though….Heat vs Spurs rd2…Heat in 5 or 6 #TeamHeat #Team3Peat #ReHeat #GoHeat

  2. TROYBOY says:

    The Heat played a great game. The way the Pacers played, they didn’t deserve to win. But that doesn’t mean make changes for next year. The Heat is going to make changes. I think the Pacers need to build on the experience they have from the last 3 years. Jordan went through it, Dirk went through it, Pistons went through it, LBJ, KD, etc.. Work hard in the off season and try again. With this team, they need to regroup and see what happens. Exact same thing as the Thunder.

  3. tanibanana says:

    People here are talking as if Pacers were ousted by a bunch of average players…
    Peeps, Pacers took Miami Heat to game-6… Possibly the longest series Miami will have this post season.
    As Miami will close out the Finals 4-1 against the Spurs.

    • #dwade#flash says:

      if you were watching, Heat could have closed the series in game 5 but…….
      but……..
      you know what happened

  4. PG Overrated!! says:

    PG surely is overrated, he may have scored 37 in game5 and 29 in game6, WHILE LEBRON IS ON BENCH. He may
    be a GOOD PLAYER, but not a superstar caliber. I have had little respect in him but its blown away by his comments
    after the game5 in regards to supporting LS’s foolish antics and calling him ‘Special’. If you are TRYING to be a leader of
    the team, YOU SHOULD KNOW better that what LS has done is nothing but DISGRACE to not just Pacers organization
    but game of Basketball itself.

  5. TMac says:

    As good as the Pacers can be, they still have work to do to better as a team. If they would have played better team basketball, then this series would have went to 7 games. I mean look at what happens after they lose….they blame each other, blame game plans, blame refs, etc, etc…..but they don’t take responsibility as a team. They have the players to be a threat, but they are horribly inconsistent….and it boggled my brain how anybody could say that the Pacers could just steam roll the Heat in this series. Game one is the only game I seen them play good team basketball this whole series.

  6. Well done Miami! says:

    That’s too bad the ECF(especially the last game)were as one sided as they were. Last year the Pacers did a much better job and appeared to be more focused. Lance has got to go…Too much side show antics that never derailed LeBron but I DO think they sidetracked Lance himself from actually playing cohesively with the rest of his team. Give credit to Miami but Indiana basically gave this series away this year. I like the Heat mainly because they play as a team. When your star player(especially) has the mentality to make his teammates better its a great recipe for a champions. Pacers need to observe that carefully. I mean they have great potential but having Lance pulling those shenanigans isn’t helping the team achieve their goals.

  7. michael yates says:

    Indiana faded long before the playoffs. Maybe it’s time to take stock. The coach isn’t very good. The offense is dreadful. Walk the ball up court and hope something happens. Hibbert is just awful, with brick hands and a style of play that suggests he is a foot shorter than he is. He’s slow and, well, pick your negative adjectives. He is all of them. West is pretty good. George is good. Stephenson is OK but a fool. The second unit is really bad. Maybe Bird should be replaced too. Why anyone would think that that bum Bynum would help is beyond comprehension. Indiana would be a disgrace to even be in the finals. They have played some of the worst playoff pro ball I have ever seen, and I have been watching games since the mid-1950s. Why don’t you reporters say the truth. This team stunk up the court throughout the playoffs and the last third of the season. Plus they’re awfully arrogant for a team that bad. The Heat can be beaten, but never will they lose a series to this crew.

  8. irwin.ph says:

    its obvious, right? . . . the key in winning championships is not only having great players but also having great coach … because the coach is the one making the right adjustments in putting the right combinations inside the court, just like the adjustment of coach spo in putting rashard lewis against david west & giving him more quality time… excellent job for coach spo!!! …GO HEAT!!!

  9. TURSETTE says:

    WHO IS TEH KINGGGGGGGGGGG

  10. Chris says:

    Now if the thunder could lose game 6 for an epic spurs vs heat rematch that’d be great. I’m a spurs fan but the 2014 finals were epic. Miami and San Antonio both played some incredible basketball, unfortunately there can’t be two winners, so I tip my hat to miami, while hoping it’ll be heat nation tipping their hats to the spurs. Ya’ll got it in the bag if you get Oklahoma though.. Haha

  11. lol says:

    too bad for indiana