Pacers’ Game 7 Quest A Worthy Goal


VIDEO: Paul George scores 36 as the Pacers take down the Clippers

Be careful what you wish for.

As adages go, it’s not the most inspiring, right? Chase your dream, go for it, you only live once, flyin’ high now … except maybe you’ll regret it later. It’s the kind of conflicted message that, imparted at just the right time in a person’s life, keeps the shrinks’ and therapists’ kids in private schools.

The Indiana Pacers aren’t worried about all that. They want what they want. And they want home-court advantage in the NBA playoffs, specifically in the Eastern Conference finals (should they manage to get there).

They want it for the same reason they’re supposed to want Andrew Bynum – so the Miami Heat can’t have it. The value of being at home for the ultimate game in a best-of-seven series was seered into the Pacers’ brains June 3 – Miami 99, Indiana 76 – and has been the clearest, most shining goal in their tear through the season’s first half with the league’s best record.

The obvious downside, potentially, is that chasing that regular-season goal might sabotage the Pacers in their pursuit of the bigger prize: the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Coach Frank Vogel, breakout star Paul George, center Roy Hibbert – the ViceRoy of Verticality – and the rest have been asked about the potential for stubbing their toes almost as much as they’ve been asked about the championship itself.

Yet here they sit, nearly halfway through the grind, with a 3.5-game lead over the Heat and 1.5 over San Antonio and Portland in the Western Conference. None of the Pacers has broken down, no one has come up lame. They open their longest trip of the season Monday night at Golden State, a five-gamer bouncing through the West, showing no signs of flagging or peaking too soon.

Indiana targeted its brass ring for the season and methodically has gone after it. It has given them an identity and a purpose, and imposed some order on what – for the best teams, the ones likeliest to be playing in June – can be an amorphous and ponderous six months.

This has not been a burden, George said Saturday after a 106-92 victory over the Clippers.

“Not really. I don’t see it within this whole locker room,” the Pacers’ All-Star guard said. “It feels great going out there. I really don’t see it draining us. We just want to build habits for our team right now.”

The Miami Heat can scoff, wag a finger and remind the Pacers and their fans that one false move in a Game 1 or Game 2 come springtime – a squandered lead, a fluke play late – can flip the home-court advantage back to them. The two-time defending champions also can talk ominously about burnout, overuse injuries or other ills that could befall Indiana as a result of pushing so hard through 82.

Now, the Heat didn’t much heed such talk when they were winning 27 in a row last winter. But they have earned the right to “manage” the schedule and, given Miami’s roster, discretion rather than over-exertion is the better part of valor. The same might hold for San Antonio with its wrinkled wonders, though pacing the Spurs through the regular season hasn’t brought a ring home lately. The last time San Antonio won (2007), its main guys still were relatively teething.

Biggest difference, DefRtg vs. league average
Team Season DefRtg Lg. avg. Diff.
Indiana 2013-14 92.6 102.9 -10.3
Boston 2007-08 96.2 104.7 -8.6
San Antonio 2003-04 91.6 100.0 -8.5
New York 1992-93 97.1 105.3 -8.2
New York 1993-94 95.8 103.6 -7.8
Detroit 2003-04 92.5 100.0 -7.5
San Antonio 2004-05 95.8 103.1 -7.3
San Antonio 1998-99 92.1 99.2 -7.1
Chicago 2010-11 97.4 104.5 -7.1
Chicago 2006-07 97.0 103.7 -6.7
Since turnovers started being counted in 1977-78
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions

Developing habits, throwing victories on the pile and working game-by-game through the schedule as if building something magnificent brick-by-brick suits these Pacers. They’re young enough: George and Lance Stephenson are 23, Hibbert just turned 27, point guard George Hill is 27, and they’re the only guys averaging 30 minutes or more. They’ve been healthy: with the exception of Danny Granger, Hill (three) is the only member of their top nine who has missed more than one game.

Besides, it’s not as if they’re going to suddenly decide: “Nah, never mind. Not worth it.” Indiana is 21-1 at home this season. The Pacers have had a home-court edge like few teams, dating back to before several on this season’s team were born: 25 consecutive winning seasons in Indianapolis.

Bankers Life Fieldhouse was packed and crazed Saturday, on a snowy January night despite whiteout conditions on the highways leading downtown. And before Game 7 last June, there was Game 6, a blowout Pacers victory in which LeBron James was a minus-22.

By the way, in that game, Indiana’s reserves chipped in just eight points on 3-of-5 shooting. But that was then – this season’s bench is one reason Vogel and the Pacers feel they can push hard and go deep. Where once there was Tyler Hansbrough, D.J. Augustin and Sam Young, there is Luis Scola, C.J. Watson and Granger, renewed after his knee and calf layoffs.

Scola is shooting 50.2 percent and matching his career best of 10.4 rebounds per 36 minutes. Watson has been shooting 51.3 percent in fourth quarters, including 43.9 percent from 3-point range, with 46 percent of his makes coming in that quarter. Granger patiently probed the Clippers defense Saturday, gave Doc Rivers‘ crew another threat to account for and wound up with 12 points, scoring in double figures for the ninth time in 14 games back.

“We’ve got a lot of weapons in this locker room and we’ve always had a next-man-up mentality,” said power forward David West, who seemingly put Indiana in harm’s way Saturday with his flagrant-2 foul on Blake Griffin at the end of the second quarter. “If a guy goes down – like tonight, I got ejected, or a guy gets injured – the next guy’s got to be ready to step up.”

Every team and coach in the NBA says that, and it’s easy for the ones that have stayed healthy. Then again, real depth is real depth.

“I think we wear teams down,” backup forward Chris Copeland said. “We go as-many-players-as-you-want deep. Every lineup, every unit that [Vogel] puts on the floor is dangerous.”

Pretty much: Of Vogel’s top 10 heavily used lineups, only one (Hibbert, George, Hill, Scola and Orlando Johnson) has been “underwater” with a 79.9 offensive rating vs. 107.6 defensive rating. And they’ve been on the floor together just 30 minutes out of 1,877 this season.

Otherwise, the Pacers have been taking names and kicking rears. They have lost two games in a row only once so far, and of their seven defeats, five have come on the second night of back-to-back games. And guess what? There are no back-to-backs in the playoffs.

Look, be careful what you wish for isn’t bad advice. At its core, it suggests a cautious approach while, y’know, still wishing for something big. Literature, film and TV are rife with examples of great quests that end without payoff: The Maltese Falcon that inspired so much skullduggery ends up being a fake in the end. The ark that propelled Indiana Jones across continents is crated and warehoused by the end of Raiders. Don’t even get me started on Moby Dick.

But the Pacers’ hearts want what they want, and there’s no putting them off that goal now. If they get it, and even if Miami or someone else snatches away the home-court advantage early in a series, Indiana still will have at home – where its players, coaches and fans believe it matters – any Game 7 it faces.

That is worth chasing.

19 Comments

  1. jimbo says:

    Prediction : Pacers or Heat vs Spurs or Thunder in finals this year.

  2. Marco29 says:

    Eveybody presents the Pacers as the team that pushed the Heat to a game 7 and made them doubt in the 13 playoffs but the Heat never trailed (sure thet were lucky to win game 1) and won game 7 with a confortable margin. Spurs were much closer to beating the Heat.
    Pacers made some additions and got Granger back but I’m still not convinced they would knock of the Heat in a best of 7 series with or without the home court advantage. If the 3 amigos are healthy after what the Heat has shown during last Finals against the Spurs, I still think they are the N°1 favorites fo win it all. Right now, there priority is to rest and heal some players after 3 very long seasons before entering in playoff mode after the All Star break.

  3. justsayin says:

    @romel

    Ha! I was just thinking the same thing. They are good enough to succeed now, but if they were to upgrade they’d need a pg that is a great distributor – not one that would dominate the ball and sap too many shots from an already balanced offense. Nobody fits that bill better.

    Don’t see it happening though, their pieces are already arranged “just so”, and I don’t see them wanting to mess with success and good chemistry.

    Most likely finals right now, I think, will be OKC vs IND. Getting to see PG vs Durant for seven games… everybody wins! (Cause that would be some ballin!)

  4. romel says:

    Better to have Rondo as their Point Guard

  5. Indianas year this year! Granger and scola off bench great addition. George Hill is good enuff playing in Indianas style. Indiana vs thunder/blazers finals. I think Blazers will need to lose in playoffs and get experience and hunger and come back strong next season. Okc need better shooting guard. sefolosha doesnt quite cut it and Perkins is not very good just fouls heaps and no post threat. Durant and westbrook make up for this!

  6. Kareem Foy says:

    I still believe the heat are the best team. They havent played their best basketball this year or last. If wade can be healthy enough against the pacers the heat will take it. As much as hibbert has been a factor last year I think oden can match him more or less. The heat are number 1still. And Iif the pacers face okc or the spurs I think they would lose.

  7. jdub455 says:

    funny, but i do believe that it wudnt matter whether they get homecourt adv against the heat or not… the heat will still win… you just cant beat the heat using the “smash mouth” pound them in the inside style… they’re just too smart a team. if there wud b a team that wud threaten the heats’ quest for a 3peat, its none other than the battle tested spurs… those guys are a well-oiled machine and if they wud be healthy come playoff time, and if they cud emerge as west champs once again (west is ridiculously tough), the championship might (that is a big “MIGHT” since the td & manu aged again) be up for grabs… Try nxt yr PG, if lebron does decide to leave the heat which i highly doubt since they wud win the championship again… =) (that is if of course the pacers cud retain lance stephenson.. hell of a player that guy, deserves an all star nod)

  8. #dwade#flash says:

    yeah they got Hibbard! yeah Hibbard will dominate and Hibbard will eat the Heat!….

    OH wait who is Hibbard anyways?

  9. okc2014 says:

    The fact of the matter is, the Pacers are here, to stay and they will face Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference again. And if Miami Heat plays wishy washy like they have been, or all players are not at full capacity (injury-Wade), the Pacers will win the Eastern Conference. They have an excellent coach, are all fantastic players, they’ve got Hibbard, they are young, strong, healthy and ready. YHERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS TEAM! And proving it right now for the whole world to see. Miami needs to be scared. I am! Go Thunder!

  10. krespino says:

    George Hill isn’t good enough for NBA championship. There is nothing special about him. The Pacers need a PG at the level of being the best player on the court in some games, who will turn around and win some games personally. A real difference maker. The Pacers could even create a dynasty, but they are one player short of that, and the most critical one.

    • Bball fan says:

      Tell that to the Bulls of the 90′s, the Shaq/Kobe era of the Lakers, and the current back-to-back champs, Miami…point guards aren’t always vital to winning, especially in the current style of play.

    • slider821 says:

      teams who win championships are rarely teams whose best player is their PG. Hill just needs to be consistent and not careless with the ball, he doesn’t need to be a superstar for pacers to win. paul george and hibbert do though.

  11. B.C.G.S. says:

    Go Pacers!

  12. cp10 says:

    Prediction: Pacers vs GSW this year!!

    • Nope says:

      More like Pacers vs. Blazers. Roy Hibbert is expecting to face off against LaMarcus in the Finals. Right now Blazers can beat any team except Suns. 2-0 against spurs, 2-0 against thunders. They beat the two top teams in the West twice.

      • Trix says:

        How about the thunder. They have this kevin durant guy. I heard he is pretty good. Oh and they have russell westbrook come playoff time too

    • slider821 says:

      yeah, GSW has turnover issues and bench scoring issues and cannot seem to solve these problems. Blazers, like the warriors, are a jump shooting team, but they are much more consistent on offense and don’t make the careless mistakes that will send teams home in the playoffs as the warriors are soon to find out.

      • Marco29 says:

        Yeah but Blazers are not good enough on the D and it is well know that defense wins championships….

  13. SPOR says:

    I see in the pacers similar resolve in winning the championship in the 89 pistons and 91 bulls where they tried to go over rival and succeeded. I hope they would really win it all! lets go pacers!