Going into the Eastern Conference Finals, no one could expect that we would have seen the Heat not play to their identity. Bosh and Wade weren't themselves, Battier was benched, and LeBron went into Cleveland mode. Despite all that, the Heat still managed to win this series in 7 games, and advance to their third consecutive NBA Finals.
So here's what we learned from the Heat-Pacers epic dual in the Conference Finals.
1. Paul George is here, but has a way to go
Paul George had a terrific season. Being named Most-Improved Player and Third-Team All-NBA are great accomplishments for such a young player. But many got carried away with George and began comparing him to LeBron James, which frankly just isn't fair. Paul George is here. He's a great player on both ends of the floor, and the basketball world got to see that in these playoffs. But, he has a ways to go before we give him the accolades and recognition as elite. Despite his strong showing, George had back-to-back games of 12 and 13 points on his home floor while shooting 3-10 and 4-10. In a world where superstars are under a constant microscope, this won't fly, but it did. Not to mention George got completely man-handled in the post by LeBron in Game 3. And to top it off, he managed a meager 7 points in the closing and final Game 7. Paul is a terrific young player, but he's not there yet.
2. The Pacers are legit contenders
If there is any doubt that the Indiana Pacers don't like the Miami Heat, you haven't been paying much attention. David West said that the Pacers sole focus next season will be to beat Miami. The Pacers took the Heat to 6 games last year without Chris Bosh, and this year to seven albeit without a healthy Wade. Regardless of who is in the lineup or healthy for Miami, the Pacers are gearing up to beat them. They have young talent in George, Hibbert, Stephenson and Hill and they will bring back Danny Granger. They don't like the Heat, and they will not back down. The Pacers took the Heat to the brink, and if they continue to grow, Miami will continue to have their hands full with them in the foreseeable future.
3. The Heat will lose if Bosh and Wade don't play better
Struggling against the Pacers is one thing, struggling against the Spurs is another. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh played subpar games this series and left LeBron to clean it up. If they do that repeatedly against the San Antonio Spurs, they won't win a title. The Spurs are too fluid offensively to let the Heat off the hook. I do believe Chris Bosh will have a much better series in the Finals. The match-ups tilt a little further his way and he has played well against the Spurs. If Wade can muster the same intensity he did in Game 7 for 4 games against the Spurs, they will be in good shape. If they don't, they leave the door open on their dreams of a dynasty.
4. LeBron James is really good at basketball
I mean, is there anything this guy can't do. He is invincible, durable, strong, athletic, gifted, talented, and a leader. Without him, the Heat...well let's not go there. LeBron held the water while Wade and Bosh struggled and kept Miami afloat. He won Game 1 in the clutch, dominated Game 3 from the post, sealed Game 5 in the third quarter, and dropped 32 in the close out Game 7. We are blessed to watch him play basketball. For the series, LeBron averaged 29 PPG and 7.3 RPG and that's low for him.
5. Adversity brings out the best in Miami
With their backs against the wall, that's how the Heat like it. Sometimes you get the sense that games are lost to make the series interesting. A Game 7 brought out the best in Miami this series, and we have seen it before. Game 6 in Boston (2012), Game 4 in Indiana (2012), and Game 2 against Chicago (2013). The Heat like doubt and the big moment, and they rise to the occasion. If the Heat can play with that intensity and adversity in the Finals they should be just fine.
The Heat and Spurs will teach us even more about this 2013 Miami Heat team. Let's hope they are good lessons.
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