Sunday, May 25, 2014

Heat - Pacers Game Three: Basketball In The Time Of Dynasty

Same As It Ever Was
Sometimes, when I watch the NBA, I wonder what it must have been like to watch the game during the 1960s, in the midst of the Celtics dynasty. How did the fans of other teams buy in, year after year, to the idea that the empire might fall? They had to know, especially after the first couple of years, that there was no earthly way that it was going to go in any direction but the way it went, with Bill Russell and Company holding the trophy. I get that there was just less to do back then, and it took longer to get stuff done, so maybe fandom just wasn't very intense... but still, I have to wonder how the game survived, when the seasons had so little drama.

What must have happened, of course, was small little moments of hope that the non-Celtics fans must have clung to like a dying man to a raft. Little injuries, or small runs, occasional wins against the juggernaut. Hopes that a particular team had the right matchup magic to get it done, or that a non-Celtic superstar could overcome the waves of talent and over-the-top home court advantage. Maybe opening runs like, say, the 17-4 race that the Pacers started tonight's game with.

But, well, then reality set in, along with the guy that's starting to feel a lot like this generation's Russell. Miami trimmed the lead before the end of the half, ended it in the third with another run, and then took the lead in the fourth. Ray Allen was the non-LeBron hero du jour, with four made threes in the fourth, but the true story once again was the Heat defense, who kept them in range while the offense booted up, and did their usual anaconda job late.

With three minutes left in tonight's game, Miami already had it won, but the series was boiled down to microcosm. James went one on one with Paul George, created a solid five feet of space with the threat of a drive, and then faded to sink an 18-footer with no more apparent effort than if he were swatting a fly. This, in the 45th minute of play. On the next Pacer possession, Lance Stephenson tried to do the same thing, but got overwhelmed by the Miami defense, partly due to apparent exhaustion, and partly because, well, he's Lance Stephenson. It's not just that James is fantastically talented, it's also that he doesn't wear down. Then, James found Allen in the corner, and Jesus Shuttleworth made one of those absurd catch and shoot makes that should keep him employed into his mid-40s. Five point swing in 30 seconds, 10 point lead to 15, buh bye, Pacers. And in that sequence, really, you could put the full lie to the idea that this series is somehow a bad matchup for the Heat.

The fact of the matter is that Miami only had to play one good half, and maybe even one good quarter, to beat the Pacers tonight... and the same was true in Game Two. Indy can suck people in because no one wants to admit that the entire Eastern Conference season this year was just a coronation, just as people can get deluded into thinking that James will just up and leave the Heat to somehow go back to Dan Gilbert and the Cavs, and it's all pathetic.

James and the Heat will beat the Pacers, and go to their fourth straight Finals. Win or lose in that round, James would be crazy to leave Miami and this set up, because he's only really got to win a single series against a truly tough opponent, and there's no reason to leave the coach that he knows can get him there, the tax-free haven where he lives with his family and mostly avoids winter, or the teammates that he trusts.

So he'll re-sign with the Heat, and continue his chase down of Michael Jordan for the most rings among MVPs who weren't Russell. There will not be a new super team in the East to threaten the Heat next year, so independent of accident or injury, we'll be watching the same thing in 12 months, and 24, and 36, and 48.

And later, much later, people will talk about James as if it were always obvious that he made the right move to go to Miami, and to stay there, and that the only people who hated him were Cavs fans.

Game Four is on Monday. Two days to try to determine, yet again, why it should be any different.

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