All season long, the Miami Heat were looking forward to the Indiana Pacers in the NBA Eastern Conference standings, with the Pacers eventually finishing the season two games ahead of the Heat. The immense amount of success for the Pacers during the regular season had many people postulating as to whether this was the year someone would take down the Heat dynasty in the East. And after a decisive Game 1 victory of the Eastern Conference Finals for the Pacers, many of those speculations seemed to be vindicated.
Following Game 4 of the series Monday night, however, there is no doubt to be had - this is Miami's year, once again.
The Heat cruised to a 102-90 victory over the Pacers at American Airlines Arena in Miami, leading the entirety of the game and even stretching the margin to 23 points in the fourth quarter. The final score did not represent the complete domination exhibited by Miami during the course of the game (thanks to a late run by the Pacers), but actions during the contest and comments following Game 4 prove how out-matched and desperate the Pacers are becoming.
Speaking after the Pacers's loss in Game 3, Indiana's Lance Stephenson expressed his belief that his trash-talking was finally getting to LeBron James, exhibited by the fact that James had finally decided to start jawing back:
To me, it's a sign of weakness. Because he never used to say nothing to me. I always used to be the one that would say, 'I'm gonna get under you. I'm gonna do something to get you mad.' And now he's trying to do it to me. So I feel like it's a weakness. I feel like I'm doing something right, and I'm getting under his skin. But I definitely got to keep stepping up to the plate, and be more aggressive when he [does] that.
Proving that words are just that - simply words - Stephenson was personally violated and destroyed by James's performance Monday night. While LeBron had 32 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals, Stephenson did not score his first point until 3:43 was left in the third quarter. He would finish the game with a paltry 9 points.
LeBron has led his team outright (no ties) in PTS, REBS, & ASTS in a Playoff game 30 times. 2nd most all-time is Bird's 13 (h/t @MiamiHeat)
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) May 27, 2014
Stephenson's response to the performances following the game: ''I was trying to get into his head. I guess he stepped up and got the win. I can take the heat.''
If Stephenson's performances from Game 3 (10 points on 3-9 shooting) and Game 4 are any indication, he most certainly should stay out of the kitchen.
Stephenson was not the only Pacer feeling the heat Monday night, though.
Pacers's center Roy Hibbert put up a big goose-egg in Game 4, adding essentially nothing to the Pacers's effort against the Heat. His excuse? Hibbert did not place the blame upon himself, but rather the coaches and the play-calling: "The game plan wasn't really utilizing me much. Just try to be effective wherever I can. Would I have liked to get a few more touches earlier on and get going? Yeah. That's just how the cookie crumbles sometimes."
Roy Hibbert scoring ZERO points four times in the NBA playoffs will be the main reason the Indiana Pacers lose out AGAIN. Just unacceptable.
— Taylor Jones (@NashvilleNiner) May 27, 2014
Unfortunately, Hibbert was not the only Pacer to pass-the-buck for the poor performance.
While Paul George seemed to be the one positive for Indiana on the court Monday night, scoring 23 points and pulling down 7 rebounds, his comments off the court hint at his level of frustration with the series.
"Looking at the stat sheet, we outplayed them. You got to give them credit. They won this game at the free throw line. They really just were able to get to the line more than we were, but I thought we outplayed them tonight."
Letting his immaturity and inexperience show, George continued in his diatribe against the officials:
"I mean, you can't tell me we don't attack the basket as much as they attack the basket. You can't tell me we're not aggressive. Maybe we're too aggressive... Maybe this was just home cooking."
Paul George said the Heat may have gotten some “home cooking” from the refs last night. LeBron had a response -> http://t.co/sA5KoiUyRS
— ESPN (@espn) May 27, 2014
Perhaps the behavior and comments of the Pacers's players are simply a reflection of their head coach, however. While no one can take away the effort Frank Vogel has put into bringing the Pacers back to a position of prominence in the NBA, his actions reflect the heat he is feeling at the prospect of being eliminated by Miami in the postseason for the third consecutive year.
In the closing minutes of the first quarter in Game 4 Monday night, Vogel decided to help his Pacers play some sort of defense by yelling at Heat forward Shane Battier as he released a three from the corner.
When asked about the play, Battier replied that he was unaffected and could understand why Vogel would undertake such an action:
You don't hear anything. You hear nothing. I didn't notice it. Was he screaming at me? That's news to me...He's the man, he can do what he wants for his team. It makes them feel part of the game... He's one of the guys who does not like when I call out what plays come in. I've been doing it my entire career. But some coaches really, it irritates. I don't think he likes me very much. When the play comes in, he waits until I turn away, and I stare right at him.
While the Pacers are slowly but surely losing their collective mind, the Heat are thriving due to their experience and much-needed maturity.
In the post-game press conference, Dwayne Wade voiced exactly why the Heat have persevered despite the talk and pressure from the Pacers:
We played (the Boston) Celtics a lot, and they made it more than just about basketball, and they beat us in the mental game as well as the physical game. We learned that the only way we're going to beat them is if we beat them playing the game of basketball. They're great at that mental game... So from that point, we try to leave that alone. We try to beat you at basketball. We don't go into the back‑and‑forth talking because that's not what we're here for, and that's not going to win us a game. So we try to beat you at basketball.
When the Pacers learn to play basketball instead of childish mind-games, perhaps they will finally ascend to the NBA Finals. Until that time, though, the Heat will continue their Celtic-esque dynasty-building.
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