There were 18,000-plus fans wearing Gold Swagger T-shirts at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
All of them put together probably couldn’t have guarded Dwyane Wade on Thursday night.
Wade looked like he was controlled by some kid playing his Wii all night. The All-Star guard had 41 points and 10 rebounds to help the Miami Heat defeat the Indiana Pacers 105-93, win the series 4-2 and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Wade made 17 of 25 shots, mostly against Paul George, one of the league’s best perimeter defenders. The degree of difficulty on some of Wade’s shots was off the charts. If judges awarded extra points for style, the game would have been over at halftime.
“He was spectacular from beginning to end,” Miami forward LeBron James said. “He got into an early rhythm and stayed with it. With his performance tonight, it helped us get this win.”
Even the shockingly bright pink pants Wade wore to the press conference weren’t as bright as his game. His show was so impressive that LeBron’s 28 points were very quiet in comparison.
Indiana made a solid effort. David West, who suffered a sprained knee in Game 5, played and finished with 24 points on 10-for-16 shooting. When the Pacers got him the ball, they were effective.
But too many times, the Pacers couldn’t get the ball inside. Indiana had 20 turnovers, many due to poorly executed post-entry passes.
“We gave them a good fight,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. “We gave them a little wake-up call. I’m not sure who can beat them right now. We could have beat them had we played our best. We didn’t play our best.”
Roy Hibbert, the 7-foot-2 center who was licking his chops against Miami’s depleted inside game, took only eight shots and finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.
Last year, Indiana lost a first-round series 4-1 to Chicago and the team has happy to get that far. This year, the Pacers had high expectations heading into this year’s playoffs.
“I think we feel like we had an opportunity to play a little bit longer,” West said. “This series was there for the taking. We got on our heels the last three games. They were aggressive with their two main guys, and we didn’t have enough for them.”
George showed his youth on several occasions with poor passes. Many of them were off-target desperation heaves. The second-year guard made just enough plays to show why he was on the floor and just enough mistakes to make you wonder if he’ll ever reach his potential.
In all, Indiana committed 22 turnovers.
“Some of them just came from being a little too excited,” Vogel said. “A lot of these guys are new to this level of play, this level of the playoffs. It’s just growing pains. It’s hard, it hurts, but I couldn’t be more proud of our guys.”
Miami didn’t make those mistakes. The Heat shot 54 percent from the field and had nine turnovers.
Indiana doesn’t leave emptyhanded. The Pacers gained LeBron’s respect.
“They challenged us, and we tried to challenge them,” James said. “They’ve got young guys who are good. Pacers fans should be proud of their team.”
The Pacers are now a talented team that knows what it takes to advance in the playoffs.
“Guys are disappointed, but understand that it’s just not our time yet,” West said. “Guys have to put in some work the next three months. We expect to get beyond this point next year.”
The Pacers gained their fans back. All the home playoff games were sellouts for a team that hovered near the bottom of the league in attendance all season. Most of home crowd stayed and cheered for the Pacers after the game ended. They constantly booed LeBron, a player who has received MVP chants in this same arena.
“The chant, ‘Thank you Pacers’ really meant a lot to us as a team and individuals,” Indiana forward Danny Granger said. “This is what we’ve been striving for, to get back to this level.”