Why can't these Pacers get past LeBron James and Co.? Larry Bird did a massive overhaul of the bench, signed Paul George to a lucrative long-term deal and even traded Danny Granger all for the purpose of winning Indiana's first NBA title.
All of that resulted in a team that crashed and burned during the season's second half and barely snagged the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed—a No. 1 seed that wobbled in the first round but got its act together just in time for a possible NBA Finals appearance.
Instead, Pacers fans have to endure heartache at the hands of the defending champions, the Heat—a team that ran its all-time playoff record against Indiana to 3-0. What's worse is Indy has lost to Miami in three straight postseason series.
The Pacers had an opportunity to be like the 2006 Indianapolis Colts—a squad that routinely got gashed by the opposition's running game during the regular season but eventually won Super Bowl XLI through sheer grit and determination.
However, the Pacers blew one golden opportunity after another against the Heat in this year's playoffs. Season over.
This was an Indiana team that simply failed to seize the moment.
The Heat Simply Executed Better
Anybody who followed the 2013-14 Eastern Conference Finals saw a Miami team that relied on great ball movement and drive and drawing plays to its advantage.
Time and again, a penetrator, say LeBron James, would attract the defense like a magnet and then kick it back out to the open shooter.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra also did a magnificent job in utilizing veterans like Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen. Miami's offense was particularly great in dishing the extra pass for a wide-open three-pointer.
The result? Lewis and Allen looked like 25-year-olds on the court again. Lewis, who made David West look foolish in Game 5 by beating him to his sweet spots for 18 points off the bench, should also be commended for his great defense.
As for the Pacers, Paul George was Paul George for the most part. West has always been the savvy veteran, while George Hill had his moments.
Lance Stephenson showed both spunk and immaturity. One Pacer worth mentioning is the enigmatic Roy Hibbert. While he has done a nice job of bouncing back from his disastrous second-half slump, he was nowhere near the dominant Great Wall of Hibbert he was in last year's Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat.
Gave you my all Indy sorry I came up short but like I've grown this year.. I WILL GROW AGAIN!!! http://t.co/3DYoQazJVe— Paul George (@Paul_George24) May 31, 2014
Simply put, the Pacers failed miserably to seize every golden opportunity that came their way.
They had home-court advantage against Miami. They led by three in the waning moments of Game 2 before letting James and Dwyane Wade, who has been a consistent force, take over.
Indiana also had a big lead in Game 3 before wilting in the second half, allowing Jesus Shuttlesworth to bury them with his long-range bombs.
The Pacers grabbed a 9-2 lead in Game 6. It looked good in the beginning, but the Heat onslaught was just way too much.
Too many turnovers also did them in.
By not taking advantage of these opportunities, the Pacers played right into the Heat's hands. Miami promptly closed out the series at American Airlines Arena for the second straight year.
While Stephenson's theatrics may be viewed as a way of throwing the Heat off, they obviously backfired. Both of his tactics were on full display in Game 5. They just made Miami mad.
Really mad to the tune of a 25-point blowout in the next game.
Plus, there was no way possible James—a four-time MVP—would play the way he did in Game 5. There was no way for him to be limited to a single-digit scoring production the next time around. He was out for redemption.
Indiana's emotional immaturity issues actually date back to last season, when Hibbert was fined $75,000 for his postgame rant after Game 6 against the Heat.
Yes, this Pacers team is a year older. But are they a year wiser? Not just yet.
The Indianapolis Star's Bob Kravitz touched on the subject of the Pacers' emotional immaturity in his May 30 article:
They should have been good enough to take the Miami Heat to the edge, maybe force another Game 7. But talent alone doesn't beat the two-time defending NBA champions, who comport themselves like champions.
It takes something more, something that isn't readily measured during the NBA Combine. It takes emotional maturity and character and competitive will. And in that category, the Pacers were horribly lacking.
The Parting Shot
Another reason the Pacers couldn't keep up with the Heat was their bench. Thirty-four-year-old Luis Scola was their primary weapon from the shock troopers, but he wasn't consistent.
How would you grade the Indiana Pacers' 2013-14 season?
C.J. Watson had a strong Game 1 with 11 points but was a non-factor the rest of the way. Rasual Butler, as he has all season long, made the most of every opportunity given him.
To put things in perspective, the Pacers' bench got outscored by the Heat's, 149-93, per 1070TheFan.com's Conrad Brunner.
What the Pacers needed was a Jamal Crawford or Vinnie Johnson type of player who can provide instant offense off the bench. Evan Turner was supposed to be that guy, but that experiment failed miserably.
Had Turner clicked and Andrew Bynum been healthy, the complexion of this series would have been entirely different. The breaks just didn't go Indy's way in the end.
With this, Brunner says the Pacers now face an uncertain future:
There is no shame in losing to one of the best teams in NBA history, and there is some sense of accomplishment in returning to the conference finals two years in a row, finishing with the best regular-season record in the East.
But on each previous step of the ladder, the Pacers entered the offseason with genuine cause for optimism.
Not this time.
Now, the Pacers face nothing but uncertainty. The only thing they know is the chasm between their talent level, their professionalism, their maturity, and those of the Heat cannot be closed by internal growth and a couple of new bench players to scapegoat.
To sum up, the Pacers couldn't get over the hump versus the Miami Heat because the defending champs simply executed better. Indy was also emotionally immature and had a weak bench once again.
A more optimistic outlook has them in the position of the Pacers of the mid-1990s, who had to develop for several seasons before finally knocking off the hated New York Knicks.
However, as Brunner pointed out, a cloud of uncertainty also hangs above a team that had every opportunity to dethrone the Miami Heat but just couldn't.