Basketball / Sports

The Miami Heat's LeBron James (6) faces off with the Indiana Pacers' Lance Stephenson in the first quarter during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the American Airlines Arena in Miami on Friday, May 30, 2014. The Heat won, 117-92, eliminating the Pacers. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/MCT)

Heat blow past Pacers 117-92 and back into NBA Finals

MIAMI -- No, it wasn't anything close to Ray Allen from the right corner saving a season in last year's NBA Finals.

And no, the emotion didn't compare to the midcourt frenzy celebrating championships each of the past two seasons.

But what transpired Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena was a reminder of everything these Big Three Miami Heat can be, the awesomeness of it all.

And certainly put the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder on notice.

That Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals the Indiana Pacers spent all season setting up on their home court?

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For the third time in three years, the Heat left the Pacers in their postseason wake, this time with a resounding 117-92 victory that was decided within minutes of when it started.

"It's bitterly disappointing to lose to this team three years in a row," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said, "but we're competing against the Michael Jordan of our era, the Chicago Bulls of our era."

It ended with chants of "Over-rated!" directed at the Pacers.

It's something that can't be said of this Heat team of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh since the trio came together in the 2010 offseason.

"You don't know when these types of game will happen," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the magnitude of Friday's moment.

Up next, a fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals, in search of copyright confirmation of Pat Riley's Three-Peat.

"When it's time to start getting ready for the Finals, we will lock in," James said during the postgame celebration with the conference trophy. "But we do not take this for granted."

The NBA Finals will start Thursday either in San Antonio or Oklahoma City, with the Spurs up 3-2 on the Thunder going into Saturday's Game 6 of the best-of-seven Western Conference finals.

"We got a buzz saw, whether it's San Antonio or OKC," Heat forward Shane Battier said.

Both of those teams finished the regular season with records superior to the Heat.

"When we were going through some of our rough stretches this season, I kind of liked it," Spoelstra said of his team coalescing through adversity. "We have a group that has earned a lot of trust with each other."

As the Heat have shown these past six weeks, 2013-14 for them never was about the regular season. Instead it was about having James, Wade, Bosh refreshed in body and mind for what already has transpired this postseason and what is to follow.

James was controlled fury from the outset, closing with 25 points in his beat-down of Pacers nemesis Lance Stephenson, afforded the luxury of sitting out the entire fourth quarter.

"I'll take Lance Stephenson's competitive edge," Vogel said of Stephenson's play against James over the series' six games. "But it's never good to tug on Superman's cape."

Spoelstra would not even address Stephenson by name, calling him "that guy" in his postgame comments, after a second-quarter Flagrant 1 foul by Stephenson to Norris Cole's nose limited the Heat reserve point guard to 12 minutes.

"We're playing for something bigger than that guy," Spoelstra said of Stephenson.

As for Bosh, he was exacting precision in his perimeter role, finishing with 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting and eight rebounds.

"He does so many winning things," Spoelstra said of Bosh, "the average fan doesn't see what they do."

And Wade again showed a springtime spring in his step, with 13 points, six rebounds and six assists.

"In our offense," Allen said, "we got everything we wanted."

Factor in an invigorating 10-rebound return from backup center Chris Andersen after a two-game absence with a bruised thigh, the continued revival by Rashard Lewis in a three-3-pointer outing at power forward, defensive intensity through the rotation, and the Pacers never had a chance.


Not with Paul George missing all six of his first-half shots. Not with Stephenson making his matchup with James so personal that he froze out the rest of Indiana's scorers, not with center Roy Hibbert continuing his late-season disappearing act. George came around to close with a too-little, too-late 29 points.

"I think LeBron just really imposed his will to start this game off," George said. "He really just sunk his teeth all over this game. They came out hot. It was hard to just slow them down and get a stop. That's where this game was lost."

Up next for the Heat is a reunion, either of the 2012 NBA Finals that the Heat took 4-1 from the Thunder or last season's 4-3 escape against the Spurs salvaged by Allen's 3-pointer late in Game 6 of that series.

In front of a crowd that had AmericanAirlines Arena rocking like the Orange Bowl did in the heydays of the Miami Dolphins and University of Miami Hurricanes, the Heat simply devoured the Pacers, ending Indiana's season, just as they did in the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals and the 2013 Eastern Conference finals that required a Game 7 a year ago on the Heat's home court.

With the victory, the Heat improved to 8-0 at home this postseason, with victories in their last 11 home playoff games dating to last season's NBA finals. The Heat will host Games 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals, as well as Game 6, if necessary. Their first home game of the Finals will be on Tuesday June 10, with Finals tickets going on sale Saturday at Heat ticket outlets other than the Arena box office.

A study in resilience during the Big Three era, the Heat now have won their last 11 games after a playoff loss.

With the victory in the Heat's 200th all-time postseason game, Spoelstra improved to 10-0 in potential series-clinching home games, the best start of any coach in NBA history.

James and Stephenson went at it early and often, both in terms of attacking the other on offense, as well as invasions of personal space off the ball, having to be separated by teammates during one first-quarter timeout.

Through it all, James closed the first period with 11 points, nearly outscoring the Pacers in the quarter, which ended with the Heat up 24-13.

James was coming off Wednesday's foul-filled, seven-point performance in the Heat's Game 5 loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

That game gave the Pacers hope they yet could force a Sunday Game 7.

Then came Friday, with the Heat giving no hope, up 60-34 at halftime, by 37 in the third and 91-58 going into the fourth.

(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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