by: Michael Shields
Of course it wasn’t. Hopefully it isn’t even the best series of the 2012 playoffs. But hyperbole sells papers. It inflates neilsen ratings. It gets you off your ass, and into the stores. It excites you. But it truly could have been spoken of in the same league as some of the greatest (2nd round match-ups) of all time. It could of, until the King and his boy took it upon themselves to ruin all the fun.
I am still in awe of how wildly captivating I found The Heat – Pacers series to be. It had the type of drama that you do not expect from a match-up such as this, one featuring a marquee team matched against one that can easily be described as nondescript. The type of drama usually reserved for the New York Knicks regular season. Reggie Miller-less Pacer teams are supposed to be boring, awful even. So how did they provide this much action, this much drama? How did the Pacers find a way to almost shock the world? Well, Lebron’s contemporary brand of villainy plays an integral roll in this one (more on that later), but there is much more to it.
If the Chesapeake Energy Arena can be viewed now as the Rose Garden of the late 80s and early 90s (the similarities, to me, are daunting – replace the red with blue and go from there) then Market Square is (for a moment) a Maloof-less Arco of the early 00’s where the under-matched Kings (way more talented than the Pacers I am well aware) were trying to take out the mighty Lakers with their indomitable one-two punch of Kobe and Shaq. So much hope in the air you can almost taste it. Moments upon moments where you can see the look in the eyes of the players and the fans that scream…..hey, we can actually do this. We can play with these guys! This was the case with this series.
David vs Goliath stories always entertain. Every-time. But this series was more than just that. A series whose greatness demands that we delve into each game and examine it as its own entity and see how it contributes to the spectacular whole. And no better place to start than game 1.
Part I: The best series….
GAME 1 – The MVP
Before the game commences the Commissioner presents Lebron his well earned MVP trophy, completing his trilogy. One couldn’t, without intense effort, draw up a better opening scene to this story. The King center stage, grinning ear to ear, before he goes to war…..a war he most certainly viewed as a smaller battle in the larger scheme of the playoffs. I am not saying he was overlooking the Pacers but I can guess after Derrick Rose went down he started watching the Thunder and Spurs play more often, notebook in hand. Bron lived up to his MVP billing putting up 32 and pulling down 15. His partner in crime dropped 29 (but shot poorly). Although the Pacers fought hard (Hibbert 17, West the same) things went according to Miami’s devilish plan. The superstars had their way, except one….
Chris Bosh was on the way to having an impressive game. He had 13 in the second quarter and looked fairly comfortable dealing with the Pacers strong front-line. But before the half concluded Bosh got shook up after throwing one down, grabbing his groin area and falling to the ground. At halftime we learned Bosh would not return because of a lower abdominal injury. Later we learned he would be out the rest of the series, possibly longer.
A critical turning point in the series. Things beginning to get interesting.
Heat 95 Pacers 86
GAME 2 – The Big 2
With Chris Bosh out the Pacers were not only assured to see a whole lot of Ronny Turiaf and Joel Anthony, but they now had reason to believe. They played hard in game 1, nothing to be ashamed of, but lost to the better team (or to better players really). Game 2 was sure to be different, and true to form it was. The Pacers came with it. A strong balanced attack, cleaning up on the glass, and composure down the stretch led them victory. Stealing a game on the road is always a big deal – but the Pacers and their grit aren’t the story here in game 2, neither is Chris Bosh. A familiar and intriguing plot line in the story of Lebron James made an appearance.
James had 28 and Wade 24, but what you do during the game has a way of getting lost in the shuffle when in the waning moments of the game you, how should I put this….you shit the bed. With less than a minute left Bron tanked multiple free throws. Soon after, with 16 ticks left, Wade missed a lay up which would have tied the game. And finally, on the Heat’s final possession of the game, a pass-first Bron relinquished the ball to Chalmers in plenty of time for him to miss a three. A classic plot line resurrected once again – Bron too rattled to shoot the final shot (seemingly). The Big 2 put up 52 but come up short (no other Heat player had more than 5 pts). The Pacers steal one at The American Airlines Arena. Off to Indy tied at a game a pop.
Pacers 78 Heat 75
GAME 3 – The Blowout
Hardware was once again given out before the game but this time the recipient didn’t hit the court after shaking hands with Stern. This time it was Larry Bird at center court receiving the Executive of the Year award. Well deserved. The crowd, clad in mustard colored “Gold Swagger” tee-shirts, was in a frenzy early and never given a reason to calm down all night. If your a Lebron/Heat hater a copy of this game will fit in nicely with your collection, just beneath Bron taking off his Cavs jersey for the last time walking to the locker room in Boston. It was a rout.
It didn’t start of so poorly for Miami, except for Wade who couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn (we found out later he had his knee drained prior to the game and he was uncomfortable during it). It honestly appeared as if Wade (5 points on 2 of 13) and Battier, who kept jacking threes to no avail, were trying to throw the game at times. Things were fairly even until the 3rd quarter and then the Pacers went nuts. The 17 – 3 run that ensued was a triumphant display of one-sidedness. Everything was falling for the Pacers, nothing for the Heat. The Pacers, their fans, their newly anointed Executive of the Year, and everyone on the losing side of ‘The Decision’ were having a riot of a time. Wade and Spoelstra even got into it with each other during a time-out, a heated exchange. The onslaught continued for the rest of the game. Hibbert finished with 19 and 18. Hill with 20, Granger 17. The Pacers walked away after humiliating the Heat with smiles on their faces and a 2-1 series lead.
Pacers 94 Heat 75
GAME 4 – The Performance
A bounce back was imminent. You don’t embarrass talent like that and expect them to not coming out swinging. Dwayne Wade, coming off the worst playoff performance of his career (hands down), used the off day to visit his former coach at Marquette Tom Crean (now the coach of the Hoosiers). They watched and analyzed tape, discussed weaknesses in the Pacers defense, and in the meantime Wade’s knee got a needed break. It paid off. Wade put up 30, 22 in the 2nd half. But someone else came even stronger. I bet you can guess who.
There are 7 playoff performances by King James that stand out amongst all others1 and now we can add another to the list, very high atop it. It was incredible.
James scored 40 points, grabbed 18 rebounds, and had 9 assists. Sit with that for a moment. Ok…good. He scored or assisted on 62 points. He was everywhere, doing everything, and making it look easy. During one stretch of the game James and Wade scored 38 consecutive Heat points. They were unstoppable, the dream duo playing in perfect unison. Their was nothing the Pacers could do to stop them. Back to Miami, series tied at 2 a piece.
Heat 101 Pacers 93
Part 2: That never was
GAME 5 – The Ugly
Things got heated. Then things got ugly.
It is only natural in a 7 games series that things get a little testy. You are defending the same guy every night, seeing the same moves, dealing with the same bag of tricks from your opponent. An errant elbow in game 1 leads to a retaliation elbow in game 2 and so on. And this type of back and forth became extremely evident in game 5. 3 flagrant fouls in total, all legit. Hansborough dropped his arms into Wade’s face as he drove to the basket, causing a Haslem-esque cut over his eye. Haslem took it upon himself later to retaliate for Wade. And, with 20 seconds left in the contest, Miami’s Dexter Pittman (Who???) slid across the lane to plant his forearm into Lance Stephenson’s chin and collarbone area (Lance, it must be pointed out, was seen making a choke gesture at Lebron during game 3’s blowout). Pittman could be seen winking after the foul. No lie.
The game was never close. Miami never trailed. James and Wade combined for 58. David West (left knee sprain) and Danny Granger (left ankle sprain) left the game within juries and to top it all off Larry Bird called out his squad post game : “I can’t believe my team went soft.” Yikes.
Back to Indiana. Advantage Heat.
Heat 115 Pacers 83
Game 6 – The Inevitable
For their insidious efforts in game 5 we would not be seeing hide nor hair of either Udonis Haslem or Dexter Pittman (???), but whatever.
When does toughness (or acting tough) and hustle and playing hard morph seamlessly into ‘bitchass-ness’2? When does talent so visibly trump grinding? When does hobbled ass Mike Miller make a huge difference in a game in 2012? Where does this all happen in unison? In game 6 of an interesting, yet anti-climatic, conference semifinals is where.
Dwayne Wade made damn sure we remembered how good he can be and at the same time made us forget how awful he was just a few games back. I, over time, will forget a pathetic yet excusable, due to circumstance, game 3 performance due to his ridiculous game 6 antics. Before the first half had ended he had 26 under his belt, 20 in the second quarter, and then finished with 41 (and 10) getting to the rim with ease all night.
A 9 point run to end the 3rd was the back breaker. They never recovered. James, who had 28 of his own, looked finally at ease down the stretch (no pressure when you got a lead I guess) and stepped on the throat of the team Wade brought to the floor. It was bound to happen I guess. We all, including Larry Bird on the edge of his seat all series, knew it was coming but we didn’t know when….and early in the series it looked like possibly never.
The Pacers are up and coming. Besides resorting to a watered down version of thug ball they played well, and are young. They have a future I figure. But their present looks like a fair way, a putting green, and a dose of reality that hit home to this viewer as well. It takes more than’ at.
Game. Set. Match.
Heat 105 Pacers 93
The promise of an unforgettable classic series proved not to be. Where hope was lost insight gained. It hit me, and I am l late to the party on this I know – partly because I tried to steer clear of the hate, but what a remarkable NBA we have now that Bron is seen as a villain, turning to the dark side post Cleveland. Ultimately Lebron’s team isn’t really that good so each series he partakes in you get to see him position the squad on his back and basically, with Wade, play a 2 on 5 of sorts (I am taking this a little far, but it is ridiculous how much of the load they carry). Every series he is in is worth watching as you now have a horse in the race, that horse: whoever is playing the Heat. I have never liked the Pacers, not one bit, yet I tuned in religiously to see if this young up and coming squad could take out the Heat, and with it, further crush Lebron’s quest for his first elusive title.
I have been a Yankees fan since birth (so they all say, right?). The blind hate and the notion that someone would root against any team that was playing them always rubbed me wrong. But maybe I have been missing the point in all that: the comradery birthed when everyone’s horses fall to the wayside. The chance to still root, and hard. I am starting to get it now . It’s just good fun.