The Indiana Pacers had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Friday, and it just so happened to come in an elimination game. The Miami Heat put a toe tag on the East's No. 1 seed with a 117-92 victory in Game 6. Miami displayed incomparable intensity on both ends of the floor, and Indy lost complete faith either late in the second quarter or early in the third.
The Heat await the winner between the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, ensuring there will be a rematch of either the 2012 or 2013 NBA Finals. With their fourth straight trip to the final round, the Heat become the first team since the Boston Celtics from 1984-87 to reach four finals in a row.
Paul George led all scorers with 29 points, but 28 of them were meaningless after he had just a single point at halftime.
The Pacers shot just 28 percent from the field in the first quarter and went ice cold down the stretch after assuming an early 9-2 lead. The Heat outscored the visitors 22-4 to close that quarter, and things only deteriorated further from there for Indiana.
The Heat poured out 36 points in the second quarter and seized a 60-34 lead at halftime, as Indy shot like the basket had a lid on it. ESPN cameras showed Pacers president Larry Bird in the stands angrily chewing on his gum.
Late in the second quarter, ESPN announcer Mike Breen posed the question: "What do you say to your team if you're Frank Vogel at halftime?" Jeff Van Gundy quipped, "We had a great year."
The deficit ballooned to 36 points midway through the third, and the home fans stuck around for the conclusion of the blowout to rain jeers down upon the Pacers.
Player grades start at C for a decent overall performance. That increases or decreases based on the quality of each player's contributions, with extra credit for huge stats or clutch performance. (We'll put role players on the grading curve). Instead of gold stars and frowny faces, here are grades for every player.
Key Heat Grades
LeBron James, Small Forward
James found himself in foul trouble for much of Game 5, which limited his playing time. Consequently, he became much more passive than usual in trying to avoid committing more fouls, and his offensive game never got in rhythm. LeBron finished with a paltry seven points and missed eight of his 10 shots. Despite his dud, the Heat would still have won the game were it not for Paul George's 21-point fourth quarter.
James came out like a bull in the first quarter of Game 6 and hung 11 points on Indiana. The contest was all but over after 12 minutes.
He reached his 25 points by the end of the third quarter, and finished with six assists and four rebounds as well. That sufficed on a night when the Heat consumed any hope the Pacers had in a furnace of skill and determination. James displayed singular focus and remained undeterred by Lance Stephenson's continued head games.
Dwyane Wade, Shooting Guard
Wade sat out 28 games during the regular season with a variety of so-called ailments, though the Heat seemed determined to keep their franchise cornerstone fit for the postseason. That strategy worked beautifully.
After setting a career-high during the regular season with a 54.5 shooting percentage, tops in the league among all guards, he entered Friday's series-clincher shooting 52 percent, his second-best mark in any postseason, and he only played five playoff games in 2010.
Wade scored nine of his 13 points in the first half, and the Heat jogged to the finish.
For some reason, coach Erik Spoelstra left Wade on the court in the fourth quarter, despite a lead of 30-plus, and the fragile shooting guard took a shot from Roy Hibbert on a hard screen. Fortunately, that dazed Wade only momentarily.
Chris Bosh, Center
At times during the game, Bosh almost seemed to play decoy. He stood in the corner preying on a three-pointer, and Roy Hibbert simply stood out there guarding him. Indy's helpless defense continually failed to communicate, and Hibbert consistently failed to come protect the rim.
Bosh tied LeBron as the high scorer at 25 with a silky layup off a slip screen and a deft pocket pass from Wade. David West fouled out on the play with eight minutes, one second remaining.
Bosh had his mojo working with 10-of-14 shooting, not to mention eight boards and two blocks.
Mario Chalmers, Point Guard
His name is Rio and he dances on the sand.
Mario Chalmers didn't even need to score, as he had the offense running on all cylinders. He finished with four points and four assists, but he would have had many more if hockey assists counted.
Rashard Lewis, Power Forward
Udonis Haslem saw multiple starts at the 4 during the series, but Rashard Lewis clearly offers the more versatile skill set. His three-point shooting helped space the floor and frustrate the Pacer bigs.
And verily, Lewis devastated from long range again in Game 6, hitting a trio of triples to reach 13 points. He even blocked a shot.
Norris Cole had already distinguished himself in the series for playing lockdown defense on Lance Stephenson. He was only needed for 12 minutes on this night, largely because the Pacers didn't merit any lockdown defense.
Chris Andersen had eight points and eight rebounds. At halftime! He romped to a final line of 10 boards and nine points in just 12:35.
Ray Allen is 38 years old, and he'll turn 39 on July 20. He still looks like he could play for another five years, or maybe 10. He scored just three points, but he looked quite fresh while running up and down for 27 minutes.
Shane Battier nailed a couple of three-pointers. He's not ready to become a senator just yet.
Greg Oden came on during the victory lap and played five minutes with the game in hand. He grinned from ear to ear when handed the conference championship trophy.
Key Pacers Grades
Paul George, Small Forward
Similar to his molasses-slow start in Game 2, George couldn't find the cup early on. He missed all six of his shots in the first half and hit the locker room with one lonely point to his credit.
He managed to lead all scorers on 29 points, but the game was already in hand and most of them came in futility. In the first half, George looked like a completely different player from the one who had carried the team on his back during Game 5.
Lance Stephenson, Shooting Guard
One game after launching a thousand memes by blowing softly into LeBron's ear, Stephenson kept up his shenanigans in Game 6.
After LeBron touched him on the forehead while defending a three-pointer and no foul was called, Stephenson sidled up to LeBron during a dead ball and tapped him on the jaw. Refs did not see either of these incidents, which should have been a personal foul on LeBron and then a technical on Lance.
In the second quarter, Stephenson wildly swung his hand for what had been a loose ball, except Norris Cole had already grabbed it and instead got smacked across the middle of his face. Cole crumpled to the floor, and after review of several replays, officials ruled it a flagrant-1 on Stephenson.
Stephenson will be a free agent this offseason, and he created many more highlights in the series with his immature antics instead of his sometimes excellent play. By the way, he ended with 11 points and four rebounds.
David West, Power Forward
With George struggling during the first half, West picked up the slack and drained his first five attempts from the field.
He fouled out with 16 points and four rebounds, not to mention 8:01 left on the clock. At that point, the rest of the Pacers were shooting 32.6 percent from the field. Perhaps West just couldn't stand to watch any more of the drubbing, so he had to take a seat after converting eight of his 11 shots.
Roy Hibbert, Center
If stressing the positive is, in fact, a virtue, then let it be said that Roy Hibbert shot well from the free-throw line in Game 6, hitting all six attempts. Aside from that, he was either guarding Bosh too far from the basket to protect the rim or protecting the rim while too slow to move out and cover Bosh.
Hibbert finished with eight points, four rebounds, three assists and a block.
George Hill, Point Guard
George Hill had the ignominious honor of encapsulating Game 6 and the entire series in a single play.
With a couple of minutes left in the first quarter, Hill grabbed a steal in the open court and drove to the basket as LeBron closed from the opposite side of the half court. Instead of taking it hard to the rack and either scoring or drawing a foul, Hill hesitated under the basket. LeBron waited patiently for Hill to make up his mind, then obliterated the pathetic shot attempt.
Hill finished with nine points, six rebounds, three dimes and two steals.
The Pacers really need a sixth man, because they don't have a rangy scorer to bring off the bench for a spark.
C.J. Watson represents their top reserve guard. Evan Turner didn't even play in Game 6. Luis Scola poses the most imposing offensive threat off the bench; he also serves as a harsh reminder of the ransom traded to the Phoenix Suns to acquire him.
Chris Copeland saw plenty of minutes in garbage time, which actually took up most of the game. He led the bench with six points. A man named Donald Sloan trailed just behind him with five. The rest of the bench managed eight combined points.
Game 7 will not be necessary. The Heat will visit either OKC or San Antonio for Game 1, which takes place Thursday, June 5 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.
As for Indiana, weary head coach Frank Vogel sighed deeply near the start of his postgame press conference shown on ESPN, then lamented: "It's bitterly disappointing to fall short of our goals. It's bitterly disappointing to lose to this team three years in a row. We're competing against the Michael Jordan of our era, the Chicago Bulls of our era."
The Pacers have to find better bench scoring to trouble teams in the postseason, and Stephenson has likely booked his ticket out of town with his persistently boneheaded actions, so a new shooting guard will be needed as well. Their first-round draft pick also belongs to Phoenix.
Vogel himself could be on the chopping block, but he seems to have his hand on the rudder of a rudderless roster. The Pacers must bring in some veterans who can lead the locker room, because their woeful inconsistency at times serves as a great discredit to the wealth of talent on the roster, plus a very skilled coach.