Heat hammer Pacers to reach fourth consecutive Finals
MIAMI -- The Miami Heat joined basketball royalty -- the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers -- as the only franchises in NBA history to make the NBA Finals at least four straight years.
The Indiana Pacers, meanwhile, battled so hard all season to earn the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for what they anticipated would be a home Game 7 against the two-time NBA champion Heat.
But the series never got back to Indiana.
The Heat ended it in six games with a 117-92 rout over the Pacers on Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was asked if he saw such a lopsided score coming.
"I'd love to say that I did, but you just don't know," he said. "I knew we had a very angry group (after losing Game 5). I knew at least that our guys would bring a very competitive spirit."
Heat forward LeBron James, who was coming off a seven-point performance in Game 5 - the lowest output of his playoff career - came back strong with 25 points in just 32 minutes.
Miami, which improved to 8-0 at home in this year's playoffs, also got 25 points from forward Chris Bosh in a game that was virtually over by halftime.
"Here on our home court," Bosh said, "we wanted to make a statement."
The Heat, which led by as many as 37 points, will have five days between games to rest before the NBA Finals begin on Thursday at either Oklahoma City or San Antonio.
Indiana entered Friday with a 3-0 record in elimination games this season. But instead of continuing that streak, the Pacers saw their season end at the hands of the Heat for the third straight year.
Pacers forward Paul George, who had 37 points in Game 5, scored 29, but he had just one point in the first half when the game was still somewhat in doubt.
The Pacers were also led by forward David West (16 points) and guard Lance Stephenson (11 points).
Stephenson, meanwhile, was the focal point once again when it came to antics and even a hard foul. In the first quarter, he made a 3-pointer and was hit in the face by James, who was face-guarding him. No foul was called.
A few minutes later, Stephenson -- deliberately but lightly -- touched James' face. James objected, but no foul was called.
With 8:47 left in the second quarter, Stephenson hit Heat guard Norris Cole with an open hand to the face. Stephenson was ostensibly going for the ball, but he was way out of control and was assessed with a flagrant foul.
Spoelstra said Cole suffered a bloody nose and called the foul "unnecessarily excessive."
Stephenson, meanwhile, was remorseful.
"It was a loose ball," Stephenson said. "(Cole) got there faster than me, but I was going for the ball. I accidentally hit him in the face. I know it looked bad, but I didn't do it on purpose."
A couple minutes later, Heat forward Shane Battier ran over Stephenson. Once again, the referees let it go.
Indiana got off to a 9-2 start, but Miami dominated the rest of the first quarter to take a 24-13 lead. The Heat closed the quarter on a 22-4 run, and the Pacers missed 14 of their final 15 shots from the field.
Miami continued to dominate in the second quarter and went into halftime leading 60-34. The Heat outrebounded the Pacers 23-13 in the first half and also had more points in the paint, 32-12.
"I have no regrets," Stephenson said. "All of us played hard. They were just the better team, and they won.
"Everybody is hurt. We worked so hard to get to this point, and we keep losing (to the Heat)."
Pacers coach Frank Vogel said the Heat plays at a championship level.
"I think it's about us not reaching that level yet," Vogel said. "We needed to take care of our home court. We had a four-minute stretch in Game 2 that probably cost us the series."