Game 7 got off to this series's usual defensive start. While the Pacers went ahead 12-6 on a 7-0 run, Miami responded with a 9-2 run on their own.
From then on, the momentum was in the Heat's favor.
Down by two to start the second quarter, the Heat took control of the tempo and the game. Miami turned up the defensive intensity, got a few steals that led to easy fastbreak points, Ray Allen knocked down his first three shots from downtown, and the Heat never looked back.
Miami shot 10-18 from the field in the second quarter, with LeBron James hitting all eight of his free throws (after just shooting 18 total the last three games).
This game, and this series, was well over midway through the third quarter. Unable to gain any ground on the Heat, Indiana seemed to collapse. All the air went out of the Pacers, and there was no energy left on the floor or on the bench. From that point on, there was no doubt who will be celebrating with champagne tonight.
Arguably the biggest storyline of Game 7: The return of Dwyane Wade. Wade was aggressive from the start, attacking the basket and finishing. We saw the explosiveness in his drives that was missing for most of this series. He was also extremely active on the offensive glass, pulling down two offensive rebounds in the first half.
Bosh was active early as well. He was just 3-10 from the field in the first half, but he had 8 rebounds, 6 of those on the offensive glass.
The Heat's efforts on the glass paid off. At the end of three, the Heat has out-rebounded the Pacers 36-18. The Heat had 14 offensive rebounds compared to Indiana's 5. Points in the paint, another category Indiana has dominated in this series, was again in the Heat's favor: 28-16.
The biggest factor in the Heat's win tonight, aside from Dwyane Wade's return to form, is Erik Spoelstra's adjustments. Paul George was doubled almost every time he caught the ball to begin the game. George Hill was being pressured in the backcourt, forcing the Pacers to get into the offense much later in the shot clock. Offensively, the Heat attacked, attacked, and attacked. They drove into the paint and either finished or got fouled. They crashed the offensive boards.
And perhaps the biggest change: Shane Battier did not play a single meaningful minute tonight. The Heat's most used small lineup, consisting of Chalmers, Wade, James, Battier, and Bosh, has not been successful all series because West was abusing Battier on the block. Spoelstra went big, giving Battier's minutes to Andersen and using James to guard West.
But most importantly, the Heat went back to what got them here: defensive intensity. Miami applied what Spoelstra called "consistent defensive pressure", locking down the Pacers, and never giving them a chance to get comfortable.
All five of the Pacers starters struggled. Paul George fouled out with just under 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter, finishing with 7 points on 2 of 9 shooting. Hibbert had some easy buckets off the pick and roll, but Miami's defensive rotations, which was great all night, forced him to commit 3 turnovers. West was 6 of 15 from the floor. George was 4-14, with most of the misses being open shots.
And of course, the four time MVP showed up big time. James was the catalyst for the Heat offense, driving to the basket and collapsing the defense. He played fantastic defense on West, leading the Heat's defensive energy. The King finished with 32 points on 8-17 shooting, and 15-16 from the line. He played exactly like who he was: the best player on the planet with his back pushed against the wall.
Here are some things we learned from this series:
The Pacers, still young, will be a force in the East for years to come.
As good as LeBron James is, he cannot win a championship without Wade.
The Heat can be beaten; there is no doubt that Gregg Popovich and the well-rested Spurs have learned this too.
However, when the Heat have all their cylinders firing as they did tonight, they are hard to beat.