March 10, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) reacts after making a three-point basket next to Indiana Pacers small forward Danny Granger (33) during the second half at American Airlines Arena. Heat won 93-91 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
The Heat can sure be a dastardly bunch. We all remember LeBron’s decision; the Big Three’s notorious opening ceremony; the promise of ring after ring after ring; the likely Big Three collusion that had been manifesting itself long before offseason 2010 arrived.
All the convoluted and over-the-top antics; all the self-glorification and four-letter network hubbub has rightfully exposed the Heat as a team most of America hates.
Yeah, the Heat are a tough group to stomach, but sometimes they…or, more appropriately, HE does something that forces the hateful mind to turn off for a few moments and revel in the opportunity to become witnesses to something truly especial. He, of course, is LeBron James, and he afforded NBA viewers a few of those moments in games six and seven of the Eastern-Conference Finals. With elimination on tap, Lebron went super box score in game six with an absurd line of 45, 15, and 5. Then, in game seven, he and the Heat sealed the deal with a win to return back to the NBA finals.
It’s more than the box score, though. LeBron’s on-court presence has been steely all playoffs long, and it’s maybe been his most impressive asset as the Heat trudge toward their first finals win. His on-court persona was on my mind the entire Pacers-Heat series, and I wanted to write about it then, but couldn’t muster it as it looked more and more likely that the Heat were going to succeed in eliminating Indy. The Pacer blues were too fresh.
The Pacers’ strategy was clear: Bully, out-physical, out-talk, and run roughshod over the finesse and glamor of those representatives from South Beach. Seemingly once a game, Danny Granger made a concerted to get in HIS face, to intimidate, taunt and/or to give a show of retaliation. Every time LeBron’s reaction was the same: a haughty shake of his head and a walkaway. Never engaging, never caring to even try. LeBron’s message was also clear: You’re not worth it and you’ll never be…enjoy your soon-to-be extended summer.
The Celtics, too, tried to add a little LeBron bark to their repertoire. KG and Rondo both slung their usual tough-guy chatter LeBron’s way, and once again, LeBron kept his resolute stare ahead, disregarding the intimidation tactics with a line not seen since the days of Wilt Chamberlain.
LeBron’s all-world talent and newly developing mental mindset makes it easier to brush off the physical and verbal affronts. He simply knows he’s better than his foe. He’s the hunted, not the hunter. The Pacers only confirmed this when trying to do more than just beat the Heat on the court. They were trying to beat them psychologically, too. They were compensating.
The next step for the playoff Pacers is to take a page out of the LeBron manifesto and become the hunted, not the hunters. It won't just be about regular-season wins and playoff seeding, but also how they carry themselves on the court. Rather than playing the role of something-to-prove jawjackers, the Pacers need to develop the mindset of expectant winners. Do this, and maybe...just maybe Kevin Durant's dynasty tour may be forced to make a stop in Indy next spring.