What's left to say about this series? The Pacers have done it with rebounding, defense, and tremendous play from Roy Hibbert. Paul George has emerged as a star in the national consciousness, and they have battled the Heat to a standstill. The Heat have relied on the best player in the world, LeBron James, but have struggled for big contributions from not only their role players like Shane Battier and Ray Allen, but also from their other stars, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Ultimately, I like the Heat tonight. I think they get by. They have the best player, and they are at home. Chris Andersen, their most effective reserve in this series, returns from his one game suspension.
That said..let's talk about the Heat. When LeBron James signed there, he talked famously about more then a hand's worth of championship rings. It seems clear now, even if they win another this year (no sure thing with a must win tonight and a rested San Antonio Spurs team waiting) that won't happen. There is already the sense that this playoff run has devolved into something resembling LeBron's Cavalier days, where he was forced to carry an impossible load.
Age never loses. They Heat have gotten older faster than we expected. Notably, Wade. He's 31 years old, and has almost 30,000 NBA minutes logged. He's clearly not the same physically as he once was. It's exacerbated in the playoffs due to what appears to be a knee problem, but his forays to the rim have become limited. HIs free throw attempts were down during the last couple of regular seasons, and are way down this playoffs.
Wade might rebound...but probably will never be the same player he was at his peak. That's how aging works. Knee trouble tends to beget knee trouble.
Their most important bench guys--Ray Allen, Shane Battier, are also aging. These players can perhaps be replaced, but it's going to be a constant struggle from now on to get needed contributions from outside of the core.
And even LeBron...he's the best player in the world. No question. And he might be having his best year. But even he is arguably not as physical and overwhelming as he once was. More of his points come from the 3 pointer now, less from the free throw line. He's gotten better at shooting, he's a better passer than ever (a skill he always possessed), he's developed that left-block post game. He has over 35,000 minutes on his body, and while he is still obviously capable of stupendous acts of physicality and athleticism, it isn't as relentless as it was five years ago. Every great adjusts his game; LeBron is no different.
So where do the Heat go from here? If they come through tonight (which I expect) and beat the Spurs for a second title (certainly possible), they probably go into next year as the favorite again, even with essentially the same roster. But I'm not sure. Maybe they have one more in them next season, but that's far from certain. Beyond that, it's hard to see the same group being at the top of the league for much longer.
Enjoy game seven tonight. Chat about it here.