With their backs against the wall the Pacers got a jaw-dropping, near-career second half from Paul George and a career playoff low 7 points from LeBron James.
Two things that don’t fit if you’re Miami, and a miracle if you’re Indiana.
LeBron got into foul trouble soon, got his fourth 30 seconds into the 3rd quarter.
Miami led by 9 at the break as Wade and the Heat looked to steal another game at the Bankers Fieldhouse and punch the Heat’s 4th straight ticket to the NBA Finals.
With a 31 - 15 third quarter the Pacers took what it looked like a commanding 7 point lead.
The Heat kept fighting and chipped away to a 2 point deficit.
Then George happened. The All-Star got hot from behind the arc and hit shot after shot to keep the Pacers alive. Late three pointers from Rashard Lewis and rejuvenated play from Dwyane Wade kept the Heat in contention but it wasn’t enough.
Finally, the Pacers prevailed.
They meet up Friday night in South Beach. LeBron’s Heat looking to join Bird’s Celtics and Magic’s Lakers with 4 straight Finals. George’s Pacers looking to force the Game 7 they’ve been longing for all season long.
The day was May 16th 2014, a Thunder win in Game 6 against the up and coming Clippers sent them, for the third time in four years, to the WCF where they would have to take on Duncan’s Spurs for a chance to compete at the NBA’s highest level.
Joy didn’t last long, Serge Ibaka was ruled out for the rest of the playoffs with a calf injury and the Thunder would have to move on without him. Bummer.
It was WITH Ibaka that the Thunder had swept the regular season against the Spurs. It was WITHOUT Ibaka that the Thunder would have to meet the “old” Spurs in the WCF. Serge’s impact on the WCF was about to be seen.
Game 1 & 2 passed and the Thunder found themselves on a 2 - 0 hole (hypothetical hole since in 2012 they came back exactly from the same “hole” against the same team). During that 2 game stretch the Spurs shot 53.8% from the field and 45% from beyond the arc, making it clear that Ibaka’s absence was enabling Duncan in the lane and opening up spots for sharpshooters like Green and Belinelli.
Durant’s Thunder seemed to be running out of options. Then, some kind of miracle happened, Ibaka’s calf had improved to being near non-symptomatic and was given a great chance of logging in some minutes in Game 3.
Game 3 came and went and the Thunder found, mostly in Ibaka, the energy needed to take a game in the series and hope for a chance to relive the 2012 playoff comeback that launched them into their first NBA Finals in franchise history. Ibaka’s presence on the paint caused the Spurs’ numbers to drop to 39.6% from the field and 38.5% from beyond the arc. OKC was able to spread the defence and smash the Spurs game plan, the rest is history.
Although it’s not certain if the Thunder will continue to get the same results from Ibaka’s calf experiment (during a stretch in the game he seemed really uncomfortable and limped badly), rest assured that if they do they’ll have a great shot on coming back to take the series and, maybe, a shot at a title starting June 5th.
The 2-time defending Champs lost every one of the 48 minutes of Game 1 against their foe Indiana Pacers.
Everyone expects the Heat to answer as what they are, 2-time defending champions looking for a 3-peat.
The interesting part about their response, and the possibility of getting the most desired 3-peat, is the future of the franchise. Everyone knows Wade’s not the same guy he was last year, he’s (at least) one step slower; Ray Allen has not been the sharpshooter he’s supposed to be (although he’s still Ray Allen); James Jones, well, he’s James Jones and cannot be considered an impactful role-player this season; and it’s a slippery slope from there.
It’s clear that the Heat are going to have to rebuild sometime in the near future, probably inside the next 2 years. Notice that rebuilding doesn’t mean they’re going to blow the doors out of the Big 3. But winning a third straight championship could ruin their future by having to keep some of the pieces they could move today.
Rebuilding for the Heat means, unless LeBron decides to take his talents far away from South Beach, getting younger raw talent they can develop in the upcoming years.
So, thinking about the future, what’s the best possible result for Heat’s 2013-2014 season?
As Game 1 of the WCF approached, a lot of analysts were skeptical about how much would Ibaka’s injury affect OKC.
Well, I guess yesterday’s game answered every question we could have. Without Serge the Thunder couldn’t spread the floor properly and disaster ensued.
Now Spurs basically just did their job, the same way Pacers vs. Heat, protecting home-court since Game 1, but the way the Spurs crushed the Thunder was flabbergasting. Spurs cancelled 2 (two) of Thunder’s starters.
Brace ourselves, Conference Finals are going a long way this year, so we’re just getting started. Everyone knows a series doesn’t start until someone loses a game at home.