This series was never about the easy storylines and ancillary noise. It wasn’t about what team was tougher or which was “soft.” Was never about who was flopping or who was more physical. Wasn’t even about the flagrant fouls, suspensions, trash talking or dripping blood.
Peel away all that static and distill to the essence and this Heat-Pacers second-round playoff series was about what Thursday night’s deciding Game 6 here was about. Just this:
Miami was better.
Was all along, and showed it.
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Miami was the team missing major players Chris Bosh to an injury and Udonis Haslem to a suspension, and playing on the hostile road against an utterly desperate opponent — and still Miami was better.
Why? Simple. No over-analysis needed.
Miami was the team that had the best player in this series — the best player in the entire NBA.
Except LeBron James isn’t always even the best player on his own team.
Sometimes that is Dwyane Wade.
This time, when it mattered most, it was Wade.
Man, was it ever. Brilliantly, emphatically, it was Wade.
“He was spectacular,” James said.
And that is why Indiana fans in their “Gold Swagger” T-shirts emptied into the night quietly Thursday, their team finished, while Miami with its Gold Standard duo moves on, as expected to the Eastern Conference finals.
Heat 105, Pacers 93.
The Heat won this elimination game for a bunch of reasons but none as big as Wade scoring a game-high 41 points on magnificent 17-for-25 shooting, including a monstrous 20-point second quarter when Miami shook off a slow start and climbed back into the game.
For Wade it was a season-high for points and a personal career playoff best.
Ebulliently he strode into the postgame interview room wearing slacks whose color might have been red-meets-salmon, the pants nearly as loud as his performance.
“I know they’re killing me in the [TV] studio about my pants,” he joked. “They’re just mad they can’t pull it off.”
There was this one magical moment in that quarter when Wade swiveled and juked into the paint for a layup — except he spun a behind-the-back pass instead for an emphatic James slam-dunk. That gave Miami a four-point lead on a Wade-fueled 11-2 run, and all the Pacers crowd could do was boo lustily.
See, opposing fans surely cannot cheer Wade and James’ greatness. But to be struck mute seems wimpy. And weeping wouldn’t seem right. So you boo. What else is there?
James and Wade together scored 70, 58 and 69 points over the past three games.
Am in the market for new adjectives or synonyms for “stupendous” if anybody has any.
“They’re too good,” said the Pacers’ David West. “Their two main guys, it was just too much for us. We didn’t have the resistance.”
Now the Heat awaits Boston (likely) or Philadelphia in the Eastern finals starting Monday night in Miami, owning the home court against either, championship hopes looking robust again when they seemed anything but only three games ago as Indiana led this series 2-1 and Wade was screaming at coach Erik Spoelstra on the sideline.
Credit the Pacers’ own attitude and approach to this series for sparking the Heat’s resurgence.
The opening playoff series vs. the Knicks had built-in motivation. It was New York. There was the teams’ past bitter rivalry. There was Madison Square Garden. There was Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire.
Likewise Boston (presumably) in the next round will promise built-in motivation, even beyond the fact the NBA Finals would be a step away. It’s the Celtics. There is a recent playoff history. There is the heft of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo.
But Indiana? This was the series Miami might have lulled its way through and been ripe for an upset.
That was before Indiana was kind enough to do Miami the huge factor of angering and motivating the Heat with its nonsense, its jawing and flagrant fouls.
The Pacers provided a manual for what not to do when facing the Heat:
Start jabbing a stick at that big Rottweiler dozing on the front porch.
“It’s been a physical series, started by them,” as Wade put it.
And you thought the Knicks’ Amare Stoudemire punching his fist through fire-extinguisher glass in the previous series passed for NBA playoff drama?
Miami vs. Indiana was a machismo festival, a parade of posturing.
The perfect illustration: Haslem, with nine stitches covered by a bandage after taking an elbow to the forehead, serving a game’s suspension Thursday after a payback foul for the blood trickling down Wade’s face.
My favorite macho snapshot of this series didn’t involve blood, though, but rather Pacer reserve Lance Stephenson’s choking sign directed at, of all people, LeBron James.
That is like a grain of beach sand taunting the ocean.
So much ancillary noise.
Pacers president Larry Bird was desperate in playing the challenge-their-manhood card by calling his team “soft.”
But no more than it was a bit disingenuous of Spoelstra to suggest the other guys were the goons in this series when it was his two guys sitting out suspended Thursday for earlier flagrant fouls.
Spoelstra had it researched and determined the Pacers this season had committed “over a dozen hard fouls to the face, some of the tomahawk variety,” against James and Wade in nine games including this series and regular season.
Upset over Haslem’s suspension, Speolstra complained, “The league does not have a problem with hard fouls on our two main guys.”
So much silly static.
This series seemed almost too much fun to end early. Too deliciously teeming with cartoon testosterone to stop now. When the bad blood includes real blood, and the combined technical fouls and flagrant fouls climb up into the double digits, you have something special. You felt like Heat vs. Pacers was meant to go to a Game 7, but only because they don’t make game eights.
But one man decided otherwise.
Thursday night muted all the nonsense and let what’s real come through clear.
This series ended in six because one player said so.
Miami was better, period.
And nobody was better than Dwyane Wade.