MIAMI (AP) — Different year, same story.
The Indiana Pacers came to Miami needing a win to save their season — only to get blown out for the second straight time. And a season built almost entirely on toppling the Heat as Eastern Conference champions came to a sudden end Friday night, with Miami celebrating at their expense for the third consecutive year.
LeBron James and Chris Bosh each scored 25 points, and the Heat rolled past the Pacers 117-92 in Game 6 of the East title series. Miami beat Indiana in Game 7 of the same round last year by 23 points, and this one was two points worse.
“It’s bitterly disappointing to fall short of our goals,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “It’s bitterly disappointing to lose to this team three years in a row. But we’re competing against the Michael Jordan of our era, the Chicago Bulls of our era, and you have to tip your hats to them for the way they played this whole series.”
Dwyane Wade and Rashard Lewis each scored 13 points for Miami, which trailed 9-2 before ripping off 54 of the next 75 points to erase any doubt by halftime. The Heat set a franchise record with their 11th straight home postseason win, going back to the final two games of last season’s NBA Finals, leading by 37 at one point.
In the biggest game of the season, the Pacers faced their biggest deficit of the season. The previous worst was 35.
“We can’t beat them,” Pacers forward David West said. “Honestly, as good as we felt about ourselves this year, it wasn’t good enough again.”
Paul George scored 29 points, West added 16 and Lance Stephenson — booed all night — had 11 for the Pacers.
“To work so hard and to get to where we are now really hurts,” Stephenson said.
The Heat became the third franchise in NBA history to reach the title series in four consecutive seasons, and will open the Finals in either San Antonio or Oklahoma City on Thursday night.
“I’m blessed. Very blessed. Very humbled,” James said. “And we won’t take this opportunity for granted. It’s an unbelievable franchise, it’s an unbelievable group. And we know we still have work to do, but we won’t take this for granted. We’re going to four straight Finals and we will never take this for granted.”
There was history for Indiana as well — the kind the Pacers surely did not want. Indiana is now the fifth franchise to lose a best-of-seven to the same opponent in three straight seasons.
After losing Game 7 at Miami in last season’s East finals, the Pacers made little secret of wanting the home-court edge this season. They made the regular season look easy at times, and they earned that No. 1 seed by finishing the 82-game prequel to the playoffs two games better than the Heat.
But in this series, the Pacers were two games worse.
And there will be no Game 7 in Indianapolis on Sunday.
“It is frustrating, especially when we set out a goal to earn the No. 1 seed and we didn’t get to that goal of getting to a Game 7 on our floor,” George said.
So now, the Celtics and Lakers have some company. Until Friday, they were the only teams in NBA history to reach the Finals in four straight years. The Heat have joined them.
“It’s all about 15 special men and what they’ve been able to accomplish these last four years,” said Heat managing general partner Micky Arison, who handed the East title trophy to Greg Oden. “Just a little bit more work to do, but I’m really proud of the incredible job that these guys have done.”
The way they played in Game 6 made a prophet out of Bosh, who predicted Miami would play its best game of the season. The numbers suggested he was right, and then some.
Miami’s largest lead at any point this season, before Game 6, was 36 points. Indiana’s largest deficit of the season had been 35 points.
After a layup by James with 3:39 left in the third, the margin in this one was a whopping 37 — 86-49. James’ night ended not long afterward.
“It was just one of those games that we want to play from beginning to end,” Bosh said. “Here on our home court, we wanted to make a statement.”
There were the now-requisite Stephenson events, adding intrigue to the first half. The Indiana guard walked over to James and tapped him in the face in the opening minutes, stood over him after both got tangled under the basket, and got whistled for a flagrant foul for striking Norris Cole in the head in the second quarter.
It was the end of a memorable series for Stephenson, none of which really had anything to do with basketball. His string of newsworthy moments from these East finals started when he talked about the health of Wade’s knees before the series and reached an apex in Game 5 when he blew into James’ ear and walked into a Heat huddle.
“No regrets. All of us played hard. They were just the better team, and they won,” Stephenson said.
NOTES: James appeared in what became his 100th playoff victory. ... The Pacers are 7-12 against Miami in the last three postseasons, and 20-10 against everybody else.