“The great thing is we’re a young team and we are past the building stage,” George said. “This is really our first year tasting success. The rate we are going, we see championships soon.”
They’re getting closer. A second-round loss to Miami in six games last year was followed by a seven-game, conference-finals exit this time around.
Still, they’ll be watching the title round.
“Everybody in this country knows who the Indiana Pacers are now,” Vogel said. “And we represent all the right things: class, character, hard work, old-school basketball, playing the game the right way. We represented our franchise, our city and our state extremely, extremely well, and we have a lot to be proud of.”
James exited with 5:08 left, shaking the hand of the retired soccer star Beckham as he made his way to the Heat bench for a relatively subdued celebration. Not long afterward, security personnel started what’s become a familiar task in Miami — surrounding the court and stretching out a yellow rope, preparing to hold people at bay for the looming on-court trophy presentation.
More than a few people didn’t stick around to see the East title formally presented. After all, it’s an all-or-nothing season for the Heat — and this trophy isn’t the one that will satisfy them.
Ray Allen added 10 points for Miami, which earned its 78th victory of the season, matching the 11th-best, single-season total in NBA history.
“They’re just an amazing group of guys,” Heat managing general partner Micky Arison said after handing the East trophy to Chris Andersen. “They’ve given us an incredible season so far, but it’s a long way from over.”
It could have ended on Monday, of course, with the Heat coming off their worst offensive outing of the year in Game 6. They responded with a rout, despite shooting just under 40 percent, well below their norm.
“By any means necessary … we took care of business,” James said.
After 5 minutes, it was 12-6 Indiana. After that, the rest of the half was pretty much all Miami. Over the final 19 minutes of the half, Miami’s edge was 46-25. Over the final 11 minutes, it was 33-14, as James and Allen outscored the Pacers by themselves.
“We just focused on every possession, trying to get stops, play Miami Heat defense, create havoc,” James said. “I thought we did that tonight.”
Indiana was still within 13 with 3:37 left in the period when Hibbert picked up his fourth foul. Ordinarily, that would mean someone goes to the bench, though Game 7 on the road for a trip to the finals hardly could be classified as an ordinary occasion.
So Vogel — who was second-guessed for not having Hibbert on the floor for the final moments in overtime of Game 1, when James got to the rim easily for a game-winning layup — left his center out there with four fouls.