Above Average Thoughts From An Average Guy
Most of the time, fans and observers know when a playoff series is over. Maybe the precise moment when the tide turned can’t be pinpointed until after the fact, but both sides kind of know which team will prevail well before someone is officially the first to four wins. It’s why those teams that suffer a gut-wrenching Game 6 loss when up 3-2 in a championship series never seem to bounce back, with the Texas Rangers being the most recent victim of this pattern in the 2011 World Series. Just last year I had to feign an ostensible display of optimism after the Heat dropped Games 4 and 5 in the Finals, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my concession speech ready the afternoon before tipoff of Game 6. Rational people can’t invest too much into unquantifiable elements such as momentum, karma, jinxes, symbols, and signs, but in a more general sense, it’s hard to feel confidence when little if any factors are trending in your favor.
This was a series, even with no concrete reason to believe so, that felt over before either team took the court Thursday night.
I credit the Pacers tremendously for their effort in Game 6. On the heels of a 32-point blowout loss that resulted in being called out as “soft” by their own president, and with America’s perception of them shifting from that of scrappy upstarts not buying into the Heat mystique to cowering neophytes unable to muster up the mental or physical fortitude to push this series to the limit, the Pacers went out with the same attitude they came in with: feeling they were equals to the Heat until proven otherwise. They were grinding and clawing for any points they could, even cutting the lead to six with as little as two and a half minutes remaining.
If I had any doubts this series might at least be going back to Miami, those doubts immediately dissipated during the Heat’s 10-0 run in the second quarter that kept the score tied and allowed the teams to go tit-for-tat from that point forward until the Heat broke the game open. Early on, the Pacers finally showed signs of utilizing their size advantage, feeding the ball to Roy Hibbert and David West, who shot a combined 10-of-13 for 24 points in the first half; the team as a whole shot 59 percent from the field during the first two quarters. Yet despite the Pacers seemingly reverting to their most productive offensive scheme—the points-in-the-paint strategy that yielded huge dividends in their victories in Games 2 and 3—the Heat still trailed by only two at the half.
From that point on, the Pacers got sloppy, committing careless turnovers, watching Danny Granger clank bad jumpers after a surprisingly effective first half, and most crucially, once again inexplicably failing to involve their imposing big men, as evidenced by their points-in-the-paint total plummeting from a whopping 34 in the first half to just 12 in the second. ESPN’s Mike Breen even noticed fans beginning to file out while the game was still slightly within reach, which is not an indictment of what was an extremely passionate and vivacious Pacers home crowd all three games but a sign that even the loyal and dedicated Indiana fans were resigned to their fate: the Pacers ran out of gas, while the Heat was indefatigable.
I still don’t know how this remarkable shift occurred. It was just one week ago that postmortems were being written on the Heat, analysts were looking ahead to how they could address their flawed roster next season, and theories abounded regarding what was wrong with Dwyane Wade and whether there was a toxic atmosphere in the locker room. I don’t know if it was Wade’s knee being drained or if they finally figured out their spacing after Chris Bosh went down or if LeBron James just willed them to victory from Game 4 on, but regardless, it was refreshing to see James on the right side of an inexplicably dramatic shift in a playoff series for the first time.
James continued his MVP-level postseason play in Game 6, but he happily took a back seat to Wade, who put on a scoring clinic with a 17-of-25, 41-point outburst that gave him several opportunities to break out the difficult bank-shots and floaters that he makes look routine. Another putrid shooting performance from Shane Battier was mitigated by Mike Miller nailing four threes and filling that alternate scoring void. (Battier has made up for his lackluster offensive contributions with solid defense, but he even got eaten alive by West on several occasions on that end.) The Heat once again managed to incorporate the pick-and-roll more effectively, proving they figured out how to address whatever was stifling their bread-and-butter play in Game 3.
Game 6 was like the ho-hum series finale of a wildly entertaining and captivating long-running television series. It may have given us no real surprises and only further established what we already knew, and overblown story arcs like the supposed retaliatory fouls from both teams never manifested, but at the same time no one was willing to pass up one final matchup from two worthy adversaries. (I suppose Mike Miller’s shooting performance could be the equivalent of a television finale’s minor twist, like when some peripheral character has a baby or something.) Heat-Pacers as a whole was a testy, contentious matchup, and through three and a half games, the Pacers stood their ground. But for the second straight round, it’s over early for the Heat, with a strong statement made and yet so little proven.
Some series need and deserve seven games. This one didn’t.
We know all we needed to know.
Scattered thoughts and observations:
-Usually I link to an outstanding play, so I’ll keep doing that. Wade was the star tonight, but this running hook shot from James stole the show. (It’s at the 0:44 second mark.)
-I would say I was fine with the Udonis Haslem and Dexter Pittman suspensions, but how hollow would that sound coming from someone whose team won without them? The beauty of blogging is that I am on record advocating for the league to dole out punishment in the immediate aftermath of Game 5. Suck on that, people looking for disingenuous rhetoric and inconsistent opinions!
-I take my fair share of shots at the Heat’s bench, but in doing so I don’t want to minimize Mike Miller’s gutsy performance tonight (and this postseason) considering the amount of pain he’s been playing through.
-No “Heat Fans Joke of the Day” until Game 1 of the next series, but I’d like to send off my two favorite Pacers fans from the ESPN telecast last night. Ladies and gentleman, young Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne!
-Poor Chris Bosh. In the span of two postseason rounds, he went from being an expendable supporting player to the most underrated athlete in professional sports history and back to a tertiary piece in the James and Wade Show.
-Nevertheless, if the masterful outings from James and Wade continue (and I’m trying to avoid getting waaaaaaaaaay ahead of myself here), I’m just saying we may have to avoid the whole premise of a “tainted” championship if the duo continues to rise to this otherworldly level of play and somehow gets past the Celtics and the Western champion minus Bosh. Wouldn’t not having to play Derrick Rose and the Bulls even out in the public perception at that point, or at least get overshadowed in the long run by their consistently sublime play with no help this postseason? Once again: Bosh could come back; they could play the 76ers; they’d rightfully be underdogs to the Spurs or Thunder; they could easily go back into meltdown mode at any moment; and I wouldn’t dare change the name of this column. I’d apologize for the jinx in advance if there weren’t so many caveats included just now.
-As far as the NBA championship is concerned, impartial fans will undoubtedly be pulling for whichever team comes out of the West unless some scandal breaks in the next two weeks, like if Tony Parker were indicted for war crimes or Russell Westbrook was found to be embezzling from St. Jude’s or something.
As far as the East, this next round should be very interesting. With the upstart Pacers eliminated, America is now forced to decide between the lesser of three evils.
We’ll write Miami off because obviously.
I hear the 76ers would be the darling team because of their remarkable against-all-odds cinderella playoff run as an 8-seed, but let’s be honest: This could’ve been a real-life version of some contrived Hollywood screenwriter’s idea of a basketball team that stole America’s hearts—in that scenario, the plot would usually consist of the Sixers owner threatening to move the team unless they won the title or if their star player was out with a deadly hybrid of EbolaBirdFluSyphilis—and there’s still not a fucking chance America rallies behind a team from Philadelphia no one gave two shits about a month ago.
Meanwhile, I for one like this Celtics team, but apparently they’re pretty unlikeable to many outside Boston. Plus, in trying to brand them as the anti-Heat, it’d be ridiculous for anyone to make the case that a team with the original Big Three and superstars with reputations as dirty players in their own right (Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett) from a big market where every team has won in the past decade is somehow the sentimental favorite and people’s champion. The Celtics trying to claim the moral high ground against the Heat would be as awkward as watching Mitt Romney try to attack President Obama for using his health care model.
And yet like Romney, they’ll probably still try. And like Romney, if the antipathy toward the other guy is strong enough, fans will probably buy that bunkum.