|Vogel: '[James and Wade] played at such a high level, I don't know that anyone can beat them.' (AP)|
INDIANAPOLIS -- After his team was eliminated by the Miami Heat on Thursday night, Pacers coach Frank Vogel said what nobody else would say, what the Heat would never admit, what most folks would never imagine.
But what is true.
Vogel's stunning words started with a question from me. After the Heat had beaten the Pacers 105-93 in Game 6 to clinch their Eastern Conference semifinal, I asked Vogel: Are James and Wade figuring stuff out, figuring out how to play without Bosh, with each other, with three teammates who are best served staying out of the way?
"Chris Bosh is a fantastic player," he said, "but when he goes down, that means more touches for LeBron and Wade. That's not exactly an advantage [for us]."
|More on Heat-Pacers|
|More NBA coverage|
It hasn't been since Game 4, when Wade and James decided to stop fooling around, stop making it a point to include Joel Anthony and Mario Chalmers and Ronny Turiaf. Since Game 4, Wade and James have decided to dominate the ball and see if the Pacers could keep up. They could not. Since Game 4, the Heat have won three games in a row by a margin of 17.3 points per game. Since Game 4, the Heat took a series that seemed closely contested -- and they turned it into a blowout.
Who's next? Could be Philadelphia. Probably will be Boston. Not sure it matters. And that's not me talking -- that's Frank Vogel.
"We held them under 40 percent [shooting] the first three games," Vogel said. "But after Game 3, [James and Wade] played at such a high level, I don't know that anyone can beat them."
Anyone in the East, anyone in the West. Anyone. That's Frank Vogel talking, and it might be crazy talk. Not the part about the East. He's right about that -- if Wade and James can replicate the will, the force they brought to bear in the past three games, neither the Celtics nor the 76ers can beat them in a seven-game series. But the Thunder? The Spurs? Those are different cuts of cloth, made of finer fabric than the best teams in the East. For the Heat to beat the Spurs or Thunder in the NBA Finals, James and Wade might need to reach another gear.
Which doesn't faze Wade even a little bit.
"I hope we do have [a higher level we can hit]," Wade said. "We still have more basketball to play."
The basketball they've played since Game 4 has been sublime, bordering on ridiculous -- almost reaching the level the world envisioned, even feared, when James and Wade joined forces in Miami and added Chris Bosh just because they could.
In Game 4, James had a game for the ages -- 40 points, 18 rebounds, nine assists -- while Wade added 30 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
Game 5 saw Wade and James combine for 58 points on only 36 shots from the floor. They could have scored more, but didn't need to. The Heat won by 32.
Game 6? It was Wade's turn to pierce 40, finishing with 41 points and 10 rebounds. James had 28 points, six rebounds and seven assists. Combined, they were 29 of 48 from the floor.
"Three games, two guys being dominant at the same time -- this is the most [dominant] we've been in the playoffs," Wade said. "Obviously, we envisioned this at times."
The Pacers couldn't stop them, though not for a lack of effort. They got physical. They got flagrant. They got deep, too, running a series of guards and forwards at James and Wade, trying to do with numbers what they couldn't do with talent. Nothing worked.
"This series was there for the taking," Pacers forward David West said, and as I was imagining how that quote would fit in my story -- as I imagined following it by writing, So, Wade and James took it -- West said it for me.
"We didn't have enough resistance to limit them," West said, referring not to the Heat -- but to Wade and James. "They just dominated the game from start to finish."
Yes they did. James and Wade dominated Game 4. Then Game 5. Then Game 6. They dominated the Pacers in a way that had Vogel, the Pacers coach, feeling almost helpless. At this time last year, after the Pacers were eliminated by the Bulls, Vogel felt his team had blown a chance to advance -- that his team could have, maybe even should have, gotten past the Bulls. Asked to make the same assessment now that his team had just lost a series it once led 2-1, Vogel declined.
"Our whole focus was on [Bulls star] Derrick Rose last year," Vogel said. "It's like [the Heat] have two of them out there -- but bigger."
Bigger than Rose, stronger. Just as skilled. Almost as quick. Every bit as explosive. That's the riddle the Miami Heat pose now that James and Wade have figured out how to play with each other, how to play without Bosh, how to attack in merciless waves of two.
If there's a defense for them, it hasn't been invented -- because until the past few weeks, this offense hadn't been invented yet. But it has been invented now. Set free by Bosh's injury, Wade and James are now unleashed. They are the Kraken. They are monstrous.
And they are hungry.