The Miami Heat swatted away the Indiana Pacers like a tedious fly in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals Friday to set up an incredible fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals.
LeBron James was his typical brilliant self in the 117-92 victory, as he finished with 25 points, six assists and four rebounds on the night. Incredibly, Ethan J. Skolnick of Turner Sports predicted the way these Eastern Conference Finals would unfold back in January:
Midseason prediction: Pacers push themselves to 64 wins, Heat cruise to 60. Heat win G2 in Indiana & everyone wonders why we wasted 6 months— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) January 19, 2014
Perhaps of more interest is what happens to the Pacers going forward. If Paul George’s quote is any indication, via Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, Indiana probably won’t be teaching a course on team chemistry anytime soon:
Paul George on if he wants to see Lance Stephenson back: "You know, I don't know."— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) May 31, 2014
Now that Miami has claimed the Eastern Conference crown, an updated bracket can be found here, and the updated broadcast schedule is below:
|6||San Antonio/Oklahoma City||Saturday, May 31||8:30 p.m.||TNT|
|7*||Oklahoma City/San Antonio||Monday, June 2||9 p.m.||TNT|
SI.com (*if necessary)
|1||San Antonio/Oklahoma City||Thursday, June 5||9 p.m.||ABC|
|2||San Antonio/Oklahoma City||Sunday, June 8||8 p.m.||ABC|
|3||Miami||Tuesday, June 10||9 p.m.||ABC|
|4||Miami||Thursday, June 12||9 p.m.||ABC|
|5 *||San Antonio/Oklahoma City||Sunday, June 15||8 p.m.||ABC|
|6 *||Miami||Tuesday, June 17||9 p.m.||ABC|
|7 *||San Antonio/Oklahoma City||Friday, June 20||9 p.m.||ABC|
SI.com (* if necessary)
The ultimate question now is who Miami will play in the Finals. Will basketball fans be treated to a rematch of last year’s epic NBA Finals, or will we see a James and Kevin Durant showdown for the title?
It is difficult to shake the image of the San Antonio Spurs dismantling the Oklahoma City Thunder 117-89 in Game 5 if we are to predict the Western Conference representative. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were both brilliant and combined for 41 points, and the Spurs looked like the machine that earned the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
However, the home team is a perfect 5-0 in the Western Conference Finals, and not a single contest has been decided by less than nine points. Even the one that finished with a nine-point deficit wasn’t as close as the score indicated.
According to the NBA's Twitter account, Tim Duncan called this series the "craziest" he's ever been in, and Kevin Pelton of ESPN pointed out just how rare something like this has been in the game’s history:
Besides 1992 CHI-CLE, the other conference finals since 1984 w/first 5 games decided by 9+ points was 1988 DAL-LAL (all 12+).— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) May 30, 2014
The key for analyzing this series is not getting caught up in the moment from game to game. There is no reason to think the pattern will not continue in Game 6, since it is nearly impossible to win in Oklahoma City, a fact the Spurs have found out the hard way this year in both the regular season and the postseason.
Look for the Thunder to use the energy in the building to jump out to an early lead in the fourth quarter. Behind Durant and Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City will ride that initial surge to a victory and force a decisive Game 7.
Who wins the Western Conference Finals?
We may not get the blowout that we have seen in the first five contests, but the Thunder will use their athleticism to even this series up.
Oklahoma City can count on Westbrook and Durant for the most part on a nightly basis, but role players tend to play better at home (as Boris Diaw and Danny Green proved in Game 5). Reggie Jackson and the rest of the supporting cast will perform well in Game 6. That will be more than enough to get the victory.
However, the Spurs will return the favor in Game 7 back at home, as it will be their role players hitting open threes and grabbing critical rebounds.
The only people that would be happier with that result than San Antonio fans may be the Miami Heat, given that it would mean a physically grueling Game 7 in the Western Conference Finals.
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