It’s crazy to think what this Miami Heat team is capable of when they play pressure defense and have two players, alongside LeBron James, have average offensive days.
When this team sets their mind to something and they focus for longer than a quarter, the Heat are the best team in the NBA, and arguably one of the best ever.
Because despite shooting less than 40 percent from the field and getting a fourth consecutive single-digit scoring output from Chris Bosh, it was still more than enough to come away with a 99-76 victory over an Indiana Pacers team that just looked happy to be there.
LeBron James, naturally, led the way with 32 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block, as well as getting to the line for 16 free throw attempts, converting 15 of them. It was one of the few times all series James, as well as each member of the ‘Big Three’ made a conscious effort to get to the rim as much as possible.
As a result, Roy Hibbert was finally in foul trouble, ending up with five in nearly 38 minutes, and Paul George, LeBron’s primary defender, fouled out after an abysmal 34 minutes where he was limited to seven points on nine shots.
The Heat took 38 free throws to Indiana’s 20. It was the first time this series where Miami took more free throws than their opponent in a game, and it reflected their aggressive outlook of Game 7 as James, Wade and Bosh all put their heads down and attempted to get to the rim.
James was supported by Dwyane Wade, who was supposedly dead, traded and amnestied heading into Game 7.
He looked like the Wade we have all come to know. He was euro-stepping interior defenders and forcing Hibbert to foul, getting out on the fastbreak and using his crafty play to get highlight-worthy dunks, and, most importantly, not forcing up as many bad shots as he was in previous games.
Wade finished with 21 points on 16 shots, shot 7-of-7 from the line, and grabbed nine rebounds, including six on the offensive boards.
Speaking of rebounds, the Heat did something that was not expected by anyone: Creaming the Pacers, equipped with their 7’2″ center and 6’10” power forward, in the rebounding department.
After winning the rebounding battle by 20 the previous game, the Pacers were the victims of gang-rebounding as each member of Miami’s ‘Big Three’ ended up with at least eight rebounds. In all, the Heat held a 43-36 rebounding edge and a 15-8 offensive rebounding advantage.
Despite facing a two-point deficit and only scoring 19 points in the first, it was obvious that Miami was playing nothing like the team that had given LeBron no sort of help the previous outing. Instead, they double-teamed Hibbert and forced him into a number of turnovers, got out in transition, and didn’t force the jumpers that Indiana wanted them to take.
It would all come together in the second and third quarters, where Miami would outscore Indiana 57-34 and take as large a lead as 28 points. The gargantuan lead allowed Miami to take LeBron out with still over five minutes remaining and insert the likes of James Jones and Rashard Lewis in the final lineup of the night.
It was capped off by a Rashard driving dunk. Because why not?
Miami opened up the 28-point lead following a pair of Wade free throws that put the Heat up 91-63 with 5:30 remaining. Cheap shots and “physical” play would rear its ugly head as Pacers’ legend Jeff Pendergraph and Norris Cole would get into it near the end of the game that would result in both players being ejected.
Cole had another solid night for Miami, finishing with 8 points on 3-of-4 shooting to go along with four assists and two rebounds in 20 minutes.
Norris, however, was not the star of the night for Miami’s bench. No, Ray Allen finally made his appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, sparking the Heat in the second quarter with 3-of-3 shooting from beyond the arc.
Allen finished with ten points and three rebounds. His first three essentially broke it open as a four-point lead was all that was necessary for Miami to completely blow Indiana out of the water.
A LeBron alley-oop would follow after and Miami was up by a commanding six points early in the second. Indiana would never get that close again as Miami would later use a Chris Bosh three-pointer, which fired everyone up but none more than Bosh himself, to stretch the lead to ten.
Indiana would cut the lead to seven with 3:31 left in the half, but Miami would respond with a 5-0 run over the next two possessions and a 11-3 run to end the half.
The two teams would exchange blows early in the second half, but the Heat never let the lead shrink past 12. The lead would stretch to 17 with 4:52 left in the third following an and-one by Dwyane Wade and a pair of free throws from LeBron.
Miami ended the quarter on a 4-0 run, all on free throws, to get the lead to 21 heading into the fourth. Indiana would never get closer than 19.
Although watching LeBron and Dwyane finally produce as a tandem, it was Miami’s defense that has them going to the Finals for a third consecutive season. The Heat limited Indiana to 41 percent shooting from the field, 30 percent shooting from deep, and forced them into 21 turnovers.
Indiana’s starting frontcourt made up for 12 of the turnovers, with six alone coming from David West, who needed 15 shots to score 14 points. The Pacers were led by Roy Hibbert’s 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting, but he was severely limited by foul trouble and Miami’s ferocious and frantic double-teams.
It only made you wonder why Miami didn’t employ such a strategy before. Miami neutralized Hibbert last year because they were constantly shadowing and fronting him. This year, however, Miami has allowed Roy to find himself in one-on-one situations with defenders who are much smaller.
When the Heat finally threw two defenders at him, the 7’2″ titan stopped playing like Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal rolled up into one entity.
As for the rest of this Pacers team? It’s been real, but here’s a message to them and their whiny fanbase:
The Heat begin their NBA Finals against the well-rested San Antonio Spurs, who are coming off a sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies, this Thursday at home.