In the end it was about as easy as we thought it would be when Indiana was barely shrugging off the Atlanta Falcons in round 1 of the playoffs – or getting blown out at home by the Washington Wizards in the second round – and the Miami Heat toyed with a 50 point lead at times in the 3rd quarter, eventually beating the Pacers 117-92 to win their fourth consecutive Eastern Conference Title.
Indiana had brought in just an element of doubt to the inevitability that the Heat, leading 3-1 going into game 5 in Indiana, would run away with the series after taking such a commanding lead in the series, with their 93-90 win on Wednesday night. It was, however, a win that took place in the context of LeBron James having one of his worst ever playoff games, indeed games ever, with 7 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 3 turnovers and 5 fouls and Indiana still only won by 3 and Miami had a shot to win it – James kicking to Bosh in the corner who saw his three point attempt rim out.
Indiana have been the definition of inconsistency these playoffs and questions will be asked about how they go forward from here. Frank Vogel’s job is apparently safe and there is no chance they would trade Paul George, who now seems on the verge of making a couple of tweaks to his game to launch him into the category of superstar by most people’s definition. David West is the model of consistency and professionalism. Other players’ futures are less certain.
Lance Stephenson remains an enigma. The moronic “choke” gesture he made to LeBron in the playoffs two years ago which fired James up; blowing in LeBron’s ear, cupping his face, standing over him after he was knocked to the ground; implying he was going to force Dwyane Wade to do something to injure his knees; and the 25 points in game 2 that looked like they might help the Pacers to a win in a game where no other starter scored more than 14. Larry Bird had told Stephenson to stop trying to “get in LeBron’s head” – something he failed at spectacularly – and yet he still tried in game 6. Stephenson knows how to rile some players – Evan Turner and he got into a fistfight at practice this season – but clearly doesn’t know when he’s beaten. I genuinely would not have been surprised if he had grabbed LeBron by the nuts this series. Or pulled his shorts down. There is a lot of chatter on the internet that Stephenson’s antics have caused a number of teams – including Indiana – to drop their interest in the former second round pick out of Cincinnati. Indeed, demand for Stephenson has been bipolar this offseason, perhaps finally hitting the trough in game 6.
There are rumors the team will not pick up Scola’s option for next season. Scola is rumored to be a target for Houston, who, thanks to the somewhat bizarre amnesty-ing of him, cannot re-sign him until his contract expires in 2015. Other teams will be casting admiring glances on a player who remains an offensive force, even if he cannot always guard quicker 4 men and is too short to defend the 5. Hibbert has also been enigmatic but has a lot of money coming his way and, in a league where 5 men are becoming ever more versatile, will struggle to find a comfortable match.
Miami now await the winner of the San Antonio-Oklahoma City series which looks certain to go the distance. Game 6 in Oklahoma is tonight and I’m sure more are expecting another home blowout of the visitors. San Antonio have struggled to deal with the return of the “out for the season” Ibaka, but seemed to find their groove in game 5, even if it was at home.
Miami will certainly fancy themselves against the one-on-one oriented OKC offense which tries to play to the strengths of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook – and Reggie Jackson to an extent – and they will be ready for the shot blocking prowess of Serge Ibaka after yet another series against Roy Hibbert who, for all his faults and failings this postseason, is still a full four inches taller than Ibaka and was only 0.4 blocks per game behind Ibaka in the regular season. Ibaka scores more, and more efficiently, than Hibbert and we should probably call a halt to the comparison there given Ibaka is more of a 4 man than a 5, a role usually played with little-to-no skill by Kendrick Perkins until he gets in foul trouble and is replaced by provocative rookie Steven Adams.
The Spurs offer more of a challenge to Miami who are no longer able to run teams off the floor as they were in seasons past. The team is tired after four consecutive runs to the NBA finals and will have to dig deep against the Spurs who I have beating Miami in 6 in the Finals.
The Courtside Collective will be in attendance at the 2014 NBA finals so keep following us on Facebook and twitter! @courtsideco and @sandersandrew for all the latest!