King James and the Miami Heat are the defenders of the Larry O’Brien throne. James has two knights in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but Frank Vogel is commanding an army. Paul George, Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson, George Hill and David West led an insurgent unit that had the best defensive efficiency in the league during the season and caused fits for Miami’s top-ranked offense.
Indiana’s been here before. In the '90s, it was Reggie Miller battling His Airness for Eastern Conference superiority. Miller-Time had its moments and delivered a few black eyes to Chicago, but Jordan always emerged victorious. Miller was one of the most cutthroat crunch-time scorers in NBA history, but Jordan was a slasher with a killer instinct. The crown has been passed to James.
We expected Indiana to be the obstructionist franchise between James and a second ring, and Game 1 lived up to the billing. George did his best Miller impression by draining a desperation heave with seven-tenths of a second left in the fourth to force overtime. On the final possession of overtime, he calmly drained a trio of freebies that gave Indiana a one point lead with 2.2 remaining.
The result was the same as it was for Miller against Jordan. James broke the hearts of Indiana fans as time expired.
Every hero needs a foil. Carmelo Anthony was the early favorite to challenge James when he came into the league 10 years ago, but George blew up his spot in the second round. The Pacers are Thibodeau’s Bulls without the MASH unit. In the regular season, George held James to 21 points a game — his fewest against any Eastern Conference opponent.
Indiana’s peak may not be ahead of George’s, after all. Miami won the battle, but Indiana proved they could wound the King and his men on their home court. This one could go the distance.
The Heat are vulnerable. Wade is still not himself and Bosh will continue to get pummeled on the boards. King George has a nice ring to it. If George wants to take that crown, he’ll have to snatch the one sitting on LeBron’s head.