Not happy that I finally got a series prediction right. The Miami Heat just eliminated the Indiana Pacers in 6 games (105-93 in game 6), as I had predicted, but boy was the journey completely unexpected.
At the end of the day, you can say all you want about the Heat -- but they were simply better. There is simply no substitute for talents like Lebron James and Dwyane Wade. You can hate them but you can't deny how good they are.
For the Pacers, it's been an overachieving season and a great experience. You don't expect them to get this far, but when they bow out, it's still a tremendous disappointment. All I can say is that I am glad the Pacers did not resort to dirty tactics in the end after what happened in game 5. They could have easily gone out and hurt someone but they stayed true to hard playoff basketball.
Now it's back to the drawing board. The Pacers need to figure out how to defend the pick and roll and how to get around screens. The Heat were just so good at using screens to free up Wade and James, whereas the Pacers' screens were largely ineffective. The Heat also knew how to get the ball inside to their players' sweet spots, but the Pacers struggled to feed the ball into the post where they could do damage.
Full credit to the Heat for coming through despite losing Chris Bosh, and Udonis Haslem in game 6. The Pacers will bounce back stronger next year. With David West leading the way at least for another year, you have to be optimistic, especially if they add another piece. With an elite point guard (say Nash or D-Williams -- as impossible as it is), the Pacers could be scary.
PS: Shame on the Pacers fans who left with the team down by 6 with 2 minutes to go.
The punishment has been handed down, and I suppose it was about right. Kind of.
Udonis Haslem's flagrant 1 for his two-handed club on Tyler Hansbrough, which came nowhere near the basketball, was upgraded to a flagrant 2 and a one-game suspension. The hit is widely believed to have been retaliatory -- for Hansbrough's earlier flagrant 1 against D-Wade a minute earlier. Hansbrough's foul was upgraded to a flagrant 2, but no suspension was tacked on.
Dexter Pittman's sickening, intentional elbow to Lance Stephenson late in the fourth quarter, was also upgraded from a flagrant 1 to a flagrant 2, coupled with a 3-game suspension.
This means Haslem will miss the pivotal game 6 back in Indiana tomorrow night, giving the Pacers a better chance to extend the series to 7. Pittman probably wouldn't have played anyway, unless there was garbage time, so his suspension is moot.
The punishment was about right. Hansbrough's foul probably didn't deserve to be upgraded to a flagrant 2 -- but they did it to avoid looking like they were only punishing the Heat. I have no problem with that. He did, after all, draw blood. Yes, it was excessive (hence the flagrant 1), but it was the follow through that was excessive, not the initial contact -- which was with the basketball. Hansbrough made a play at the basketball, and as the replay showed, he only made contact with Wade's head after Wade spun around in mid-air. I also don't read anything into the low five Hansbrough exchanged with Amundson after the foul. Amundson stuck his hand out because Hansbrough stopped Wade on the play, and Hansbrough obliged. Nothing sinister in that.
I could have accepted a non-suspension flagrant 2 upgrade for Haslem as well, but can't argue with the suspension because he never came close to the basketball and he swung both arms down hard, intentionally, on Hansbrough's shoulder and neck/jaw area. Back in the day it would have been a great playoff foul, but I suppose we need to live according to the rules of the day.
As for Pittman, 3 games is too light. Previous elbows, before the one MWP unleashed on James Harden, got around 1-3 games, so in that context it seemed about fair. But Pittman's elbow to Stephenson's neck was clearly intentional, malicious and cowardly -- obviously as payback for Stephenson's "choke sign" on Lebron earlier in the series. The wink he gave afterwards said it all. I get MWP got 7 games because of his rep, but this should have been at least 5 games for Pittman because MWP's suspension had set a precedent.
No doubt Miami fans will be outraged because it looks like only the Heat got punished. But it was fair if you look at the plays objectively. I already explained the differences between Hansbrough's and Haslem's respective fouls.
Besides, Haslem may have cryptically admitted guilt when he said this: "I ain't never played to hurt nobody."
Haslem's absence will help the Pacers a lot. After losing Bosh, the Heat needed someone (apart from Lebron and Wade) who could consistently hit an open jump shot, rebound and provide hard-nosed defense. Haslem provided all three in the Heat's game 4 and game 5 victories.
That said, it might still not be enough for the Pacers to extend the series to 7. Lebron and Wade appear to have hit their stride, and once those two get going, it's hard for any team to match up. Additionally, Granger and West are both day-to-day with an ankle and knee injury, respectively. It's going to take one heck of an effort to beat the Heat, let me just put it that way.
Pittman's absence will make no difference. If the NBA really wanted to punish the Heat they should have forced Pittman to play all 48 minutes for the next 3 games, not suspend him.
All this "Pacers are dirty", "Pacers started it" and "Pacers deserved it" business is just plain wrong, as it was last year in that series against the Bulls. The Pacers have played hard, rough, and never-back-down basketball. They've delivered hard fouls, talked trash, got in people's faces and played with a chip on their shoulder all series. Annoying for the opposition, absolutely. "Fake" tough guys? Probably. I would despise them too if I went for the other team. But "dirty" they are not. Despite this "underappreciated" underdog performance they've put on, the Pacers have not committed a single dirty play all series. I challenge anyone to point to a play that can categorically be called dirty. You won't find one. There is a fine distinction, but a significant distinction, between "rough" and "dirty."
I find it amusing that Heat fans are saying that the "Pacers can't handle what they started." The opposite is actually true. The Pacers have played chippy basketball but they've refrained from getting dirty. They've toed the line. It's the Heat that haven't been able to handle the rough play and gotten dirty. Granger two technicals were for retaliating against cheap elbows from Lebron. Wade inexplicably got a free pass when he leveled Darren Collison frm behind on the break and only got a flagrant 1. Haslem's and Pittman's fouls speak for themselves. And still, the Pacers have continued to respond with hard basketball plays. The Pacers haven't even flopped or tried and sell the fouls like the the Heat have done. The recipients of the dirty plays -- Collison, Hansbrough and Stephenson -- all popped straight back up after some brutal shots. You think Wade or Lebron would have done the same?
But at the end of the day, the talent gap between Lebron/Wade and the Pacers is likely to be too much to overcome. You have to give credit where it's due, and these two have been lights out sensational. Truly two of the best basketball players on the planet (and one of them is arguably heads and shoulders above everyone else).
Still, you can't help but shake your head at this comment from Lebron on ESPN: "We all protect one another. We don't do anything that's retaliation or anything that's dirty." Note to the King: you want to have a look at Haslem and Pittman's fouls again.
To be honest, today's embarrassing 115-83 score line was more of what I had expected from this Pacers-Heat series, which now has 2-3 Indiana on the brink of elimination. What I didn't expect, however, was the dirty plays from the Heat players.
Yes, the Indiana Pacers play hard. Yes, they foul hard when they have to. Yes, they like to talk tough. But everything they do is within the rules of the game. Annoying, perhaps, but not criminal. This Pacers team might not be the most talented or the most aesthetically pleasing, but they play hard, as a team and don't back down from anyone. They don't flop and they never set out to hurt anyone.
What the Heat did today was indefensible. It's sad reading all the "Indiana had it coming", "Indiana started it" comments from Heat supporters who try to condone, or even applaud, this kind of despicable behavior. Hard fouls should be met with hard fouls, not dirty plays. No wonder Heat fans have such a bad reputation.
We've already had the D-Wade bulldozing of Darren Collison which was inexplicably let off with a flagrant 1, even after review. We've had Danny Granger getting in Lebron's face for what he perceived to be cheap elbows. We've also seen Granger get in Wade's face after Wade retaliated to a hard foul from Hibbert. In those cases Granger deservedly got technicals.
In this game, Wade drove down the lane and Hansbrough made a play for the ball and, being the brute that he is, followed through and caught Wade on the head. Watch it below. Even in slow motion, it just looked like a hard foul. Lebron complained, and the refs gave it a flagrant 1. I can't argue that one because it was hard and the follow through was excessive. It was most probably deserved under the definition.
Then, Udonis Haslem retaliated in a big way by clubbing Hansbrough with both arms and sending him crashing to the floor. Didn't even make a play for the ball. And in another reason why we have conspiracy theorists about NBA refs, they gave him a flagrant 1. Watch it below and explain how that does not fit the description of flagrant 2 (excessive and unnecessary).
If you thought that was bad enough, Dexter Pittman unleashed a vicious elbow against Lance Stephenson when the game was essentially already over for the Pacers. Any doubts that it may have been accidental were evaporated when Pittman smiled and winked at his teammates. The reason for this dirty hit, of course, was probably because Stephenson did the choke sign to Lebron a couple of games back. And the craziest part about the whole thing? Pittman got a flagrant 1.
Now, it will be VERY interesting to see if the fouls are upgraded and if suspensions are handed out. If the fouls stay as is, then you're going to make a conspiracy theorist out of me. Hansbrough does not deserve a suspension for the foul on Wade. Haslem does deserve a suspension for the retaliation. Pittman deserves a multiple game suspension. Remember, Metta World Peace got 7 games for that elbow on James Harden. Hard to say Pittman's elbow was not worse.
Unfortunately, unless the NBA decides to suspend Lebron and Wade, chances are the Pacers are not going to come back in this series. Even without Haslem and Pittman, the Heat should have enough to beat the Pacers once more, especially with Granger and West both day-to-day with injuries (ankle and knee). But it doesn't mean the commission should let what happened today go unpunished.
I'm just glad I'm not one of those people that proclaimed this series over at 2-1.
Lebron James showed why he was the MVP today with a dominating 40-18-9 stat line as the Heat vaporized a 10-point Pacers lead in the thrid quarter to take game 4, 101-93. D-Wade wasn't bad either, shaking off a poor start to finish with 30 points. And just like that, the momentum has shifted back in Miami's favor, just as Pacers coach Frank Vogel warned after the ecstatic game 3 victory.
Make no mistake, the Heat are back in control, if only because that means the Pacers have to win once more on the Heat's home floor. Not to say it can't be done, of course. Just as it was unlikely for Lebron and Wade to continue having off games, it is almost equally unlikely for them to replicate this kind of performance again. And let's not forget, despite the two of them going off for 70 of the team's 101 points, the Pacers only lost by 8. Plus it was the first time in these playoffs they gave up 100 points to an opponent.
The Pacers did what they could, but foul trouble to Hibbert and West put the team in a hole they could not recover from. Once Lebron and Wade got going I just knew it was going to be a long night (here comes the refereeing conspiracy theories).
Granger had 20 points, Hibbert had 10, 9 and 3 blocks, Paul George had 13, 6, 5 and 3 steals, and Darren Collison was a spark plug off the bench with 16 points on 6-7 shooting in 20 minutes. But George Hill, who had just 8 points on 2-9 shooting, was the only Pacer with a positive plus-minus (+5).
The NBA has really become a league of exaggeration. The amount of overhyping after a single game is getting out of control because of how easy it is to express an opinion online (yes, I am included in that conversation). Before even a single game was played in this series the Pacers were either going to be sweep fodder or a tough but easily outclassed opponent. When they won game 2 it was suddenly anyone's series. When they won game 3 it was 'OVER' (how any series can be over at 2-1 is beyond me). When Lebron missed a free throw he became the biggest choke artist of all time. And now, with his video game-like performance in game 4, the Miami Heat are suddenly the favorites again. This is just stupid. All of it.
Case in point: the assertion that D-Wade played like crap in game 3 because he was "injured." Give me a freaking break. Wade had his worst playoff performance in game 3 with just 5 points on 2-13 shooting, prompting Miami apologists to announce that Wade was "playing on one leg." He was not playing on one leg. He was not playing on one leg in games 1 or 2, and all of a sudden he's barely even walking? And he just proved in game 4 that it was, as usual, blown completely out of proportion. It's very annoying if you ask me.
Lance Stephenson, who made naughty headlines again with his choke sign for Lebron's missed technical free throw in game 3, had a "confrontration" with Heat forward Juwan Howard before the game when Howard walked over the Pacers side during shootaround. Hilarious. Although he apologized for the gesture in yesterday's press conference, it was obvious that Lance, who may have made some strides in growing up, is still a punk-ass kid who was forced by the team to make the apology. People ridiculed him, a benchwarmer, for making such a disrespectful gesture towards the 3-time MVP, but to me, the fact that people took him so seriously was what was so funny about it. And for fellow benchwarmer Howard, who is a washed up ringchaser who hasn't gotten any minutes at all, to confront Stephenson on the Pacers' side of the court, is just as hilarious. Two guys no one cares about going at each other because they have nothing better to do.
Granger got another tech for stepping in Wade's face after the latter slapped Hibbert's arm away after a hard foul late in the half. Danny, you gotta let it go. I like the never-back-down attitude and all, but overdoing it comes off as nothing more than being obnoxious. He was toeing that line tonight. Make your play do the talking next game.
I may dislike Lebron for his flopping and self-entitled attitude and the way he took his talents to South Beach, but I am not one of those people that discounts all the great things he has done in his career. You're just not facing reality if you don't realize what a great player he is. He has choked, sure, but he has also stepped up in big games multiple times. You just have to look it up. And all this ringless talk is dumb too, because that's all they've got to downplay his career at this stage. Still, I don't want him to win. At least not this series anyway.
The Pacers head back to Miami in game 5 with a lot of questions. They must feel like they let this one slip away after being up 61-51, but then again, they must feel confident that it took this kind of outworldly performance by Lebron and Wade to beat them. And it wasn't even a blowout or anything embarrassing (like I would have expected).
So just like those idiots who said it was over for Miami after game 3, it's just as dangerous to proclaim the Pacers done after game 4. I've questioned the Pacers' resiliency all year, and it's time for them to prove me wrong again.
Well that was unexpected. I thought the Heat, after playing like dung in game 2, would have come out and smoked Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Now, I'm either giving the Heat too much credit or I'm underestimating this Pacers team, because they just came out and smoked the Heat, 94-75, for a 2-1 series lead.
The Pacers, again, broke open a tight game in the third quarter, outscoring the Heat 26-12, before cruising on to an easy win.
George Hill top scored with 20, but it was Roy Hibbert that dominated with a sick 19 points, 18 rebounds and 5 blocks. He was a beast tonight.
Speaking of beasts, David West didn't shoot well but had 14 and 9. Granger had 17 and 7 on 6-15 shooting, which is pretty good for him.
The Heat went with Shane Battier and Dexter Pittman in the starting lineup. Big mistake. Battier went 0-7 and scored a big ZERO, and Pittman did the same in 3 minutes of scintillating play.
D-Wade should have been suspended for his cheap shot on Darren Collison in game 2 but didn't, but karma prevailed tonight as Wade put up a pathetic 5 points on 2-13 shooting. Sucked in. I'd like to think Paul George's defense had something to do with it. George had 9 points, by the way.
Speaking of Wade, he had a heated confrontation (pun intended) with coach Spoelstra when the Heat were getting hammered in the second half. He got into the coach's face and had to be separated by Juwan Howard and other veterans. The scariest thing was watching an uncomfortable Spoelstra back away and then pretend nothing happened. Shows the guy either has no balls or that he knows Wade owns him.
Granger grabbed Lebron's jersey on a breakaway. Lebron retaliated with another elbow. Granger got into his face. Got a technical. Lebron missed the free throw. Lance Stephenson does the choke sign. Gold.
Game 4 on Sunday. The Heat will probably come out strong and blow the Pacers off the court. Then again, that's what I thought last game. Maybe the Heat really miss Chris Bosh. Maybe Lebron is tired from playing PF. Maybe D-Wade is getting old. Maybe the Pacers are getting into their heads. Maybe Spoelstra doesn't have control of his superstars. Who cares. The Pacers are, inexplicably, in control of the series, and if they can win on Sunday it's going to get very interesting.