LeBron James straightened his back and stared into the eyes of Lance Stephenson and shoved the Pacers' agitator in the chest.
Stephenson stepped to James, and before officials could break up the confrontation James screamed: "Don't (expletive) touch me."
Stephenson did not. The Pacers were all talk, after all, but Stephenson was speechless, for once in this series, with James breathing hot anger down his neck.
And then it was over -- the game, the drama and the Pacers' season. It all happened so suddenly, the Heat's series-clinching run in the first half. It extended pretty much for the rest of the game and gave the defending back-to-back champions a 117-92 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena and a ticket to its fourth-straight NBA Finals.
Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals wasn't so much a basketball game as it was an extermination.
The Heat wiped away every memory that these playoff games against the Pacers were ever competitive. And now the real series begins for the Heat on Thursday in one Southwestern town or another.
The Heat enters the NBA's championship round undefeated at home this postseason, but will begin The Finals on the road against either the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder. The Spurs lead the Thunder 3-2 in the Western Conference finals with Game 6 on Saturday night in Oklahoma City.
The Heat defeated the Thunder in five games in the 2012 Finals and needed seven games against the Spurs to claim the crown last season.
Whatever team the Heat faces, the defending back-to-back champions are four victories away from inclusion in a select group of legendary teams.
This latest trip to the NBA Finals now truly places the Heat in rarefied air. The professional basketball franchise owned by cruise-ship mogul Micky Arison now joins the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics as the NBA's only franchises to reach the Promised Land in four consecutive years.
The Celtics have done it twice, of course. There were Bill Russell's Celtics, which ran through the old Eastern Division of the NBA for 10 straight years (1957-1966). Then there were Larry Bird's Celtics, which reached The Finals from 1984-87. That was arguably the NBA's Golden Age, with Bird's run overlapping those sparkling years by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers.
Johnson's Lakers ushered in the 1980s and Pat Riley joined during the 1981-82 regular season. With the Showtime Lakers in full bloom, Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar reached The Finals four-straight years from 1982-85.
And now James and Wade can add their names to that roll call of NBA royalty.
James, Wade and Bosh combined for 63 points, going 24 of 38 from the field. Overall, the Heat shot 57.9 percent and out-rebounded the Pacers 37-28. The game's largest lead was 37 points.
(c)2014 The Miami Herald
Visit The Miami Herald at www.miamiherald.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services