Early in the fourth quarter of Game 6 between the Heat and the Pacers, with the contest having long since been decided, the Miami faithful rained down a chant of “overrated” on Paul George and the rest of his Indiana teammates.
That’s ultimately how these Pacers will be remembered, after finishing the year with the league’s top rated defense and the best record in the Eastern Conference, but stumbling through the last two months of the regular season and similarly staggering through three rounds of the playoffs, and six games of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The opposite might be true of this Miami Heat team, considering the feat that was achieved by securing Friday’s 117-92 victory — a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals.
The last team to do that was the Boston Celtics from 1984-87, which ironically, featured Pacers president Larry Bird playing in his prime.
In order to even get to this point, the Pacers needed foul trouble contributing to a single-digit scoring performance from LeBron James in Game 5, along with Paul George going off for 37 points just so Indiana could avoid elimination by hanging on for a three-point victory at home.
In Game 6, there were no such aberrations.
The Pacers opened the game with a 9-2 start, before the wheels came completely off after the first four minutes. Miami’s lead was double-digits by the end of the first quarter, reached 26 points by the halftime intermission, and peaked with 3:39 to play in the third, when a finger roll from James put the Heat up by a ridiculous 37 points.
Indiana played as though the result was a foregone conclusion. George, who was so effective in Game 5, finished the first half 0-of-6 from the field with just a single point in over 21 minutes. Lance Stephenson, perhaps feeling as though his team had no chance from a pure basketball standpoint, upped the ante with his tactics of irritation, but the Heat maintained their composure, and only seemed to be inspired to bury the Pacers as much as possible.
LeBron appeared to be particularly locked in from the start, scoring 11 points in the first 12 minutes, and helping to set the tone for his team on a night where the Eastern Conference title would eventually be secured.
This season for the Pacers will be lost in history, and the overrated label will only stick for those of us who remember how a team that looked so strong over the first half of the season wobbled to a disappointing finish. Miami, meanwhile, will be ultimately judged on whether or not they can win a third straight title — even though the feat of getting to the Finals in four consecutive seasons is much more rare, if not as genuinely impressive.