The Pacers opened eyes during this series, both on the national stage and within their own community. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade ultimately proved too much.
Looking to send the series back to Miami for a decisive Game 7 on Saturday, the Pacers started strong, turning a complete 180 from how they opened Game 5 on Tuesday.
They fed the post early on. West opened a perfect four-of-four in a little more than the first six minutes of play (on Tuesday he had missed his first five shots). They dished the ball inside to Hibbert early for a powerful reverse dunk. The Pacers led by as many as 11 in the first half.
Then the Heat’s Big Two completely took over.
Dwyane Wade scored 41 points (16 in the second quarter) and pulled down 10 rebounds, while LeBron James added 28 points, six rebounds and seven assists. Wade displayed other-worldly efficiency from the floor, finishing 17-of-25. He utilized a step-back jumper that proved darn near impossible to guard and seemingly couldn’t miss even the wackiest of and-1s and bank shots.
Miami also put on perhaps its most effective 3-point shooting of the series on display; the team finished at a 35-percent clip from beyond the arc thanks in large part to Mario Chalmers (three-of-four) and Mike Miller (four-of-seven). Whenever the Heat can add the 3-point shot to James and Wade on top of their games, it’s downright lethal.
Granted, the Pacers had their fair share of reasons for seeing their season come to an end Thursday.
Indiana committed 20 turnovers to Miami’s nine. Leandro Barbosa, acquired to score off the bench, did not score (and was one of the biggest culprits behind the turnover margin). In fact, the bench as a whole did not do anything to help the Pacers; each reserve who played had a plus-minus of minus-seven or lower. Roy Hibbert was efficient — minus his four turnovers — when he was given the chance, but he finished with just eight shot attempts. Twelve points on eight attempts (two points were acquired on free throws) is great, but the team needed to go to him more. Plenty of instances in which the Pacers hurt themselves by standing still on the perimeter rather than finding Hibbert, who often had great position.
Big picture, though, is that James and Wade were the difference. For all the likable talent the Pacers have, they don’t have a player who can impact the game in the many ways James and Wade can do.
And that’s what the Pacers will have to figure out as they look ahead to the offseason and into the crystal ball. Is that player already on the roster (Paul George)? Is he a player the team is planning on adding this summer (Eric Gordon)? Or have we no idea?
For the time being, this is a team Indiana can be proud of and should support throughout the entirety of a season. The franchise’s rank of 29th in average attendance, given their 42-24 record and gritty style of play, was pathetic. I fully expect that statistic to improve next year.
The question is, will the Pacers’ standing in the East improve?