Game 7’s separate the meek from the worthy, and the Miami Heat, looking better than they did all through the series when it comes to defense and intensity, are clearly worthy of the NBA finals, as LeBron James put on another huge performance while Dwyane Wade silenced all those waiting to criticize him about his lack of production.
After such a physical, intense and tight series for most of the way, the Indiana Pacers folded in the second quarter of game 7 in the conference finals, eventually losing 99-76, making it three double digit defeats in the series, which sorta changes the way we look back at the past couple of weeks, and making LeBron James and his dominance look even better than it did before.
While the Pacers looked prepared in the first quarter, as usual coming up with a 22-20 lead, they fell apart in the third quarter. It ended being 21 turnovers for the visitors, and while the Heat scored only 15 points off of those and 7 overall, their defensive pressure and intensity throughout the game and especially in the second and third was too much for a stunned Pacers team to handle.
This was the change of attitude that was needed after looking soft, and pretty much second-best, in game 6. LeBron James was flying all over the place, leading the defensive pressure and traps the Heat used on almost every possession the Pacers brought up over the halfway line, leading to 32 points for James, including 8 rebounds and 4 assists. Even better? There was no fear of Hibbert this time, as the Heat simply drove to the basket at will and got fouls on the big center, finishing with 5, while James went 16 times to the line (hitting 15 of those shots!) while the Heat were an excellent 33-of-38 on the day.
Dwyane Wade? He made his mistakes, finishing with 5 turnovers, but he was in the right mindset, with the right kind of pop and explosiveness, finishing with 21 points and also getting to the line quite often (7-7), and doing a much better job on defense this time, not getting Paul George too often, giving him the chance to help in intercepting passes and on the boards, as Miami allowed only 8 offensive rebounds, which was probably the biggest weapon for the Pacers throughout the series.
More so, the Heat themselves grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, including six by Wade who didn’t look like someone who has a knee problem at all. Chris Bosh was terrible with 3-of-13 from the field, scoring 9 points, but that did keep Roy Hibbert busy quite often, luring him away from the basket, and not giving him the opportunity to focus on James and Wade who drove inside, and in genral helping the Heat be very effective on Isolation plays, scoring 1 point per possession, almost 20% better than in the rest of the series.
For the second straight season, the Heat needed a game 7 to close out a series, and made it happen without having too many problems on their final 48 minutes against the Pacers. There weren’t too many celebrations, as the goals for this season are a little bit higher, and tougher, to achieve. The Pacers showed the Heat something that brought out the best of them in the end, including in the thought process, giving them some ideas for the road ahead.
The San Antonio Spurs provide a very different challenge, but they do have a strong presence in the paint which the Heat had to handle 7 times against the Pacers. LeBron James showed he doesn’t mind taking the team on his back, whether it means forgetting about anyone else or doing it the right way: by helping his co-stars look like there’s an actual big three for the Heat.