Miami Heat beat Indiana Pacers to set up NBA finals with San Antonio Spurs
Miami set up date with San Antonio after James and teammates find another gear to cruise past Indiana in Eastern Conference deciding play-off
What, you expected something else? LeBron James and his teammates weren't going to blow this one, not at home and certainly not with a third straight trip to the NBA finals on the line.
That it went seven games gave the people of Indiana some false hope, but in a star-driven league, the biggest star in the game wasn't about to allow a flop of gigantic proportions on his watch.
David Stern can rest easy now, because the last championship series he will preside over as commissioner won't be the ratings bust that a Spurs-Pacers final would have been. Miami and San Antonio is about as good as the league could have hoped for.
Sure, Indiana had given the Heat trouble all year, handing Miami five of its 20 losses. And, yes, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh looked so lost at times during the series that the whole concept of a Big Three in Miami seemed a bit silly. But did anyone really believe James hadn't learned from his mistakes of years past? Did anyone really think that Wade and Bosh would let James down again when it mattered most?
Surely no one ever thought the greatest three-point shooter in the history of the league had forgotten how to shoot. Ray Allen did in the first half just what he was supposed to do for his new team, and now he's four wins from the ring he figured was his when he signed on to play alongside James.
"We have guys that are inspired by these types of moments in the bright lights," Miami coach Eric Spoelstra said just before the game, and he was right.
This wasn't a game won by highlight dunks and great shooting, though both were in abundance for the Heat. This game was won by superstars getting down and gritty.
There were some smiles afterwards, but it was pretty much business as usual for Miami. Taken to the limit by the physical Pacers, they simply found another gear to win in a 99-76 blowout that was decided before the third quarter was over.
"Everything that happened in the first six games didn't mean anything to us," Wade said. "It was all about game seven and finding a way to win at home."
Home is where the Heat will remain for the first two games of the finals, thanks to a regular-season winning streak of 27 games that helped them to the best record in the league. They begin the defence of their title on Friday morning (HK time), against an ageing but well-rested Spurs team that figures to give them different kinds of problems than Indiana did.
For James, it will be a chance to win title No2, to go with his four MVP crowns.
If he was a half-hearted leader before, he's fully in charge now. He delivered an inspirational address to his teammates, urging them to lay everything on the line to make sure the season didn't end early. He and Wade also met to plan strategy for the deciding game, and James told Wade he would take defensive responsibility for Indiana's Paul George, who averaged 21.5 points in the first six games.
It turned out to be a pivotal decision, with George getting just seven points on two of nine shooting before fouling out.
"Ever since I lost in the finals to Dallas, my mind frame changed that off season," James said. "I just wanted to get back playing the game I love."
It's a far cry from six years ago, when James was on a Cleveland team that was swept in four straight by the Spurs for the title.
"I'm a much better player now," James said. "I'm 20, 40, 50 times better than I was in those finals."
An exaggeration, perhaps, but on this night he looked that good - and even better.