Ever since the Heat came together on a stage in July 2010 with the pyrotechnics and bravado of a team that was pre-ordained to do great things, intense scrutiny has focused upon them. Every mistake, hiccup, shoulder bump, missed shot, injury, misspoken word, tweet, gesture and breath has been dissected and examined to an unreal and unfathomable level.
The Pacers seemed to expose every fault line for the Heat on the floor and everywhere else in this seven-game series. There was the weakness inside exposed through David West and Roy Hibbert's constant post ups and paint presence. LeBron James seemingly admitted defeat simply by working on his floater before the series began.
There was the lack of a rebounding big, again exposed in the form of West and Hibbert anchoring Indiana to a +10 rebound per game advantage entering Monday's Game Seven.
There was the lingering belief that Dwyane Wade and LeBron James copied each other's skills too much as Wade struggled and James tried carrying the team like he was in Cleveland again. And then there was LeBron's Alpha Dog complex, a belief or demand on James that has dogged him (unfairly) throughout his career.
None of that mattered in Game Seven.
The Miami Heat played to their breathtaking best in Game Seven, scoring a dominant 99-76 win over the Pacers to advance to their third straight NBA Finals.
Miami got back to the style of play that made the team the best in the NBA during the regular season. The Heat blitzed the Pacers defensively, forcing 15 first-half turnovers and frustrating the Pacers offensively. James took on Paul George all game and held him to seven points on 2-for-9 shooting. Hibbert and West faced constant and immediate double teams in the post, combining for 32 points on 13-for-26 shooting — good, but not good enough.They had nine turnovers and George had six on his own.
Then there was the offensive glass. A constant source of frustration for Miami the entire series and an area where the team could not gain any type of advantage. The Heat won that 15-8 and evened the Pacers 30-30 in points in the paint.
Indeed, Miami threw all caution to the wind with their backs firmly against the wall in this elimination game. There was the scrambling, turnover-forcing Heat team that gave opposing coaches nightmares.
The whole thing seemed to turn when James got free for a putback dunk and the American Airlines Arena crowd erupted.
For the first time all series, the Pacers did not have the answer to stymie or slow the Heat down. Miami stepped to the plate and finished the series off playing to their potential and playing their best basketball.
James was magnificent as usual, scoring 32 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Dwyane Wade pushed aside talks of his troublesome knee and thoughts that he could not give Miami much this series with 21 points and nine rebounds himself. He found a way to get involved even if his shot was not falling.
Miami did not play at its absolute best. But compared to the other games in this series, it was a night-and-day performance. The team — not just James — stepped up. Most importantly, that occurred on the defensive end where the Heat trapped and scrambled the Pacers into submission.
Indiana has a lot to be proud of, but their season is done. Miami, finally showing the East what it can do when playing desperate, got to the Finals once again.