This is how the Indiana Pacers went out. No heart or hustle leading to them getting thoroughly outclassed in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals by the Miami Heat. The Pacers jumped ahead 9-2 early in the first quarter, and that was it. The Pacers seemed to have accomplished everything they looked to accomplish in tonight's game, summarily rolling over as the Heat closed the quarter on a 22-4 run.
The Pacers shot under 30% in the first quarter despite their quick start, scoring just 13 points in the quarter. Meanwhile things began to snowball out of control in the second quarter with the Heat pushing their lead to 20, shooting 60% in the first half, and going on a 70% tear after their own 1-8 start. At the break, the Heat led by 26 at 60-34, effectively putting a stamp on the series in an emphatic manner.
Things went about as well as one would expect in the second half, the Heat leading by as many as 36, rolling towards a blowout 117-92 victory to clinch their fourth straight NBA Finals appearance. Likewise, for the third straight season, the Pacers go home empty handed thanks to the Heat, and in three years of series, it seems that Indiana hasn't learned a whole lot when it comes to actually supplanting them.
It seems this was the exact same thought a year ago: the Pacers had to know Miami was going to put the hammer down tonight to close out the series. But they were unable to handle the pressure of the moment, yet again, and it resulted in a blowout elimination loss, yet again. But this was even worse than last year's. The only saving grace to comprehending just how badly Indiana played tonight was being armed with the knowledge that this is who they've been since February.
Yet there's still no excuse for this. There's no excuse for a season to end in such a way that just looking at the box score tells the entire story. Indiana can't put up no fight. You don't get outrebounded by nine when you fight. You don't allow twice as many offensive rebounds when you fight. You don't lose every single 50/50 possession when you fight. You don't allow nearly 60% shooting through a 48 minute game when you fight. Most of all, you don't lose by 25 when you fight.
But it's an outcome the Pacers absolutely deserved. Things fell apart on this team. They forged enough every so often to make it look like things didn't fall apart, but they did. The early season hustle was gone, the sense of purpose was gone, and the excuse making and tabloid murmurs went through the roof. Making back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals is a great accomplishment, but at multiple times simply wanting the season to end while the run is in progress is not.
As for tonight's performances, there weren't much. Lance Stephenson played well early, but after picking up a flagrant foul, he quickly disappeared. David West began the game a perfect 6-6, but even in their quality play, neither player did much of anything on the defensive end to prevent Miami from pulling ahead. Paul George had a game high 29, but put up all but one point in the second half's garbage time. It should sum up tonight's entire game that Donald Sloan had the team's best highlight.
Though a disappointing way to end the season, but much like Game 7 last year, they allowed fans to prepare for their demise the entire game, setting up an offseason of important decisions that will shape this franchise for the next five years. Does Frank Vogel return? Do the Pacers resign Lance Stephenson? Is it the right move if they do? Who can they get if they don't? Is the starting lineup safe? Who on the bench returns? Will more blame fall on Larry Bird?
There's still no reason to completely overreact this offseason and blow everything up, however. The Pacers have a foundation capable of competing for a championship that doesn't have to result in groveling to LeBron James. Despite his step forward this year, Paul George still needs to be a player on the rise and he needs to continue adding to his game moving forward, though the pieces around him will be extremely important, whether they involve Stephenson, Roy Hibbert, or George Hill.
For Indy Cornrows, we thank you for your support in this season in stories and game threads. It's with hesitation that I say the Pacers had a great season, but a 56-26 record and a second straight Eastern Conference Finals appearance suggest it was. Stay tuned heading into the offseason for what's sure to be an exciting few months as Indiana sets to retool themselves for the 2014-15 season.