No more Lance Stephenson blowing in ears or touching faces, no more Paul George claiming that the Pacers actually outplayed the Heat regardless of what the blowout on the scoreboard indicated and no more concerns that Indiana’s size would be too much to handle for the rebounding-challenged squad.
Miami won Game 6 to the tune of 117-92, but even that 25-point deficit doesn’t do its dominance justice.
ESPN Highlights captured the proceedings:
The thing that should be particularly worrisome for whichever team emerges from the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs Western Conference Finals showdown is that the Heat’s best basketball still lies ahead based on what we saw against Indiana.
Clearly, LeBron James is the best player in the world right now, but he proved during the Eastern Conference Finals that he is an unstoppable force when locked in. Stephenson publicly challenged James before Game 4, and the King responded with 32 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals behind 13-of-21 shooting from the field.
After barely playing in Game 5 because of foul trouble, James left little doubt from the beginning in Game 6 who would be victorious. He ended up with 25 points, six assists and four rebounds behind 8-of-12 shooting from the field and 9-of-9 shooting from the free-throw line.
James is also attacking the rim more and shooting at an effective rate when he gets there, as John Schuhmann of NBA.com pointed out. James understands that in the biggest games his team is best off when he is aggressive:
LeBron shot 31-for-38 (82%) in the restricted area in the series: http://t.co/xTpwCR9iP5— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) May 31, 2014
Think he might just be locked in and aggressive on the NBA Finals stage?
Two role players alongside James certainly emerged during the Eastern Conference Finals as well.
Rashard Lewis scored 18 points Wednesday in Game 5 and then 13 points in Game 6 and was hitting from behind the three-point line and even attacking the rim at times. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald passed along a quote from coach Erik Spoelstra explaining Lewis’ contributions:
Spoelstra on Rashard Lewis: "I think he's probably feeling the healthiest he has felt in two years."— Joseph Goodman (@JoeGoodmanJr) May 31, 2014
If Lewis continues to hit from the outside, it will help Miami spread the floor against either Tim Duncan or Serge Ibaka in the NBA Finals.
There is also the case of Chris Andersen, who was excellent down low against the big bruisers of Indiana when healthy. He scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting in Game 1, grabbed 12 rebounds in Game 2, totaled seven rebounds in Game 3 and nearly posted a double-double in Game 6 with nine points and 10 rebounds behind 4-of-4 shooting from the field.
The presence of that inside and outside combination will prove critical against the Western Conference representative.
We also cannot overlook the impact of Dwyane Wade going forward.
The rest he received off and on throughout the regular season is starting to pay off. He scored in double figures in all six contests against Indiana, including nightly totals of 27, 23 and 23 in the first three games. The only game he didn’t shoot at least 50 percent from the field was Miami’s Game 4 victory.
Wade even managed to hit six three-pointers in the series, which is frankly unbelievable given his reluctance to shoot from out there earlier in the postseason.
Which team has a better chance to beat the Heat?
If Wade suddenly has a rejuvenated outside stroke, that is yet another thing for opposing defenses to worry about as James comes barreling down the lane.
Whether the Heat’s best basketball is enough to beat the Western Conference champion remains to be seen. After all, we saw the Spurs take them to the brink last year, and the Thunder have the terrific trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Ibaka.
One thing is for sure though—knocking off the back-to-back champions that are playing at an incredibly high level will be no easy task.
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