The Pacers presented the Heat with the type of problem that frustrates them the most: size. Their dominant duo of Roy Hibbert and David West exposed the biggest weakness in the defending champions' armor, one that was only surmountable because the Heat employ the best player on the planet.
The brilliance of LeBron James—29.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists—was ultimately too much for the Pacers to overcome.
The blueprint has been laid, however, and the last team in the way of a repeat is the most capable squad in the league of exposing those problems once more.
The San Antonio Spurs are the quintessential example of a team being more than the sum of its parts. Sure, they employ three future Hall of Famers in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. And yes, they have the best coach on the planet, Gregg Popovich, patrolling the sideline.
What they also have is a group of role players who have bought 100 percent into the seemingly infallible Spur system. Danny Green is no star. Neither is Tiago Splitter nor Kawhi Leonard (not yet, anyway).
They have jobs, though, and they do those jobs better than anyone else.
Once again, the Heat will be taxed with defending a dominant big man, in this case the best to ever play his position in Duncan. They will also have to deal with two of the craftiest players the league has ever seen in Parker and Ginobili.
It is when the attention is on those three, however, that the supporting cast thrives. Wide-open shooters are found, lanes to the basket are forged and defenses are broken down.
There is a reason Green seemingly always has space to unleash a three-point shot, or why Leonard attacks the basket almost at will. The dominance of the Spurs' Big Three allows for breaches in the opposing defense, breaches that are capitalized on because of the selflessness of their stars.
Once again, it will be a beautiful contrast of styles, the athleticism and star power of the Heat going toe-to-toe with the experience and symmetry of the Spurs.
The question that has been asked countless times throughout the regular and postseason will finally be answered: Can LeBron James be stopped?
The key to stopping him was highlighted by the Pacers: Put an athletic defender on him, and pack the paint with dominant shot-blockers.
Leonard will play the role of Paul George, Duncan and Splitter filling in for Hibbert and West. The recipe for success is in place.
The question then becomes, will the King receive enough help from his supporting cast? After sleep-walking through the first six games of the series, Dwyane Wade finally arrived in Game 7, his athleticism on full display en route to 21 points and nine rebounds.
Chris Bosh, while more active in his attack, continued to struggle, scoring just 9 points on 3-of-13 shooting. One good game from Wade and nothing from Bosh won’t cut it against the Spurs. Not even the greatness of James will be able to overcome them if they don’t step up their games considerably.
With the Spurs now well-rested after their short work of the Memphis Grizzlies and the Heat coming off that grueling, physical seven-game series, the deck seems to be stacked against Miami.
A team that boasts LeBron James, however, will never be counted out. This will not be a repeat of the 4-0 drubbing the Spurs put on the King in the 2007 NBA Finals.
The battle between a dynasty on the way out and one hoping to come together awaits us. Another long, hard-fought series appears to be on the horizon.
Gentleman, start your engines. We’re in for a wild ride.
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