First spiraling, now splintering, Indiana loses grasp of its No. 1 goal

By Steve Aschburner,

VIDEO: GameTime discusses the Pacers losing grip on No. 1 in the East

INDIANAPOLIS – Be careful what you wish for. Someone might snatch it away. That’s not quite how the saying goes, but it’s the queasy version that applies now to the Indiana Pacers.

All season long, from back in training camp through the many trips and back-to-backs, despite the physical dings and emotional drain of trying to go wire-to-wire, the Pacers had staked out the No. 1 playoff berth in the Eastern Conference as their goal within a goal. They get that, and any Game 7 against their rivals from Miami would be played in Indiana.

It was a marvelous carrot for an 82-game schedule that wields some serious sticks. A rabbit to chase and, once claimed, to flex. A fix for what slipped away last year, when the Pacers did so many things right in Game 6 against the Heat, only to step on that plane to South Florida for one more.

And then, on the final night of the season’s fifth month, it was gone. With the thud of Indiana’s 103-77 embarrassment against the San Antonio Spurs Monday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, combined with Miami’s home victory over Toronto, the top of the East looks like this:

1. Miami, 51-22, .699
2. Indiana, 52-23, .693

The Pacers just hit the snooze button on their own nightmare.

“Good for them. We don’t deserve it,” center Roy Hibbert said in a home dressing room that was more demoralized than angry. “We’ll see, in the playoffs. But we’ve got to figure things out. Miami is a good team. They’ve had a couple hiccups themselves. But we don’t deserve that No. 1 seed.”

Indiana forward David West, who hinted at a variety of basketball and chemistry issues ailing his team now, said: “We’ve got to concede that we haven’t played basketball well enough to deserve the top spot. That’s pretty much it. We haven’t played well enough. We haven’t been a good-looking basketball team for quite some time now. That’s on the guys in this locker room.”

It was only their third loss at home since Feb. 1 and their fifth at the Fieldhouse this season (33-5) but it was the worst one by far. Giving up 107 points? Very unPacers-like, with the Spurs free to score 42 in the paint and hit 8-for-17 3-pointers. Scoring a mere 77? All too Pacers-like. This was the fifth time in six games they failed to crack 80. The last team to do that, as noted by the Elias Sports Bureau, was the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats, who went 7-59 (.106) in that post-lockout season to set an NBA record for lowest winning percentage.

Not “a good-looking basketball team?” West was given another crack at his description of the Pacers at the moment. “We’re probably the most downtrodden, 50-plus win team in the history of the game,” he said. “We watch film from a few months ago, we don’t even recognize ourselves.”

Said Hibbert: “We should all go to group therapy. … We’ve been spiraling. Now we’re splintering a little bit.”

VIDEO: GameTime’s breaks down the Heat taking over No. 1 in the East

Pegging the start of swoon seems easier than explaining or solving it. Point guard George Hill claimed the mojo dipped about two weeks before All-Star weekend. Indiana won a few close ones, then dropped two of three right before the break; it is 12-11 since then. Hill had a heated timeout exchange with backcourt mate Lance Stephenson in the second half Monday, but chalked it up to “wanting to win.” Stephenson likened it to “brothers” squabbling but still being family.


But West sure seemed to be catching himself, declining to address the stress this stretch has put on what had been been Indiana’s strength, its bonds and chemistry at least in the good times.

“There’s things I’m not going to speak on, but we’ve just got to figure it out,” the veteran forward said. “We’ve got to change some things internally, inside the locker room, before we can even consider talking about winning and getting back the trust.

“As a group, we didn’t have the energy or the mindset to compete with that team tonight.”

Sure, that was part of Monday’s mess. When your offense is as sick as Indiana’s, facing the Spurs goes against every possible doctor’s order, especially if he’s named Erving or Rivers. San Antonio has won 18 in a row with its meticulous offensive execution and stifling work at the other end. The Spurs held their hosts to a season-low 26 field goals and zero fast-break points. They got 17 points off 12 Pacer turnovers just in the second half. Kawhi Leonard was so up in Paul George’s business all night, George would have had more elbow room flying middle seat, coach.

“We’re not playing the game the right way right now,” George said after scoring 16 points on 5-for-13 shooting and, later, citing a severe lack of screen-setting. “We’re not playing for one another. It’s tough to score on any team in this league when you’re trying to do it against the whole team.

“San Antonio is the perfect example. It’s hard to guard them because they move the ball, they share the ball. And it’s regardless of who’s shooting. They want the best shot on offense. That’s the problem we’re having right now.”

Keep in mind, Indiana just flopped over the weekend in games at Washington and Cleveland (minus Kyrie Irving), so no pedigree is required nowadays to pester the Pacers. Still, things went so badly Monday that criticisms and accusations that had lift before the game were dive-bombing and barrel-rolling by night’s end. Such as:

  • A couple of the Indiana players need to toughen up, with Hibbert and George hinted at as the likeliest culprits.
  • One or two of them want too much to be “the man,” without regard for the game’s actual outcome. George was fingered in our man David Aldridge‘s Morning Tip chat with Hibbert this week and Stephenson surely has tendencies to dominate the ball. The team’s high number of contested shots suggests that someone or somebodies occasionally force things, considering how many capable scores Indiana actually has.
  • They got too satisfied by their blistering start and haven’t had anyone, including coach Frank Vogel, hammering on them enough to keep them humble and hungry.

Well, guess what: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, while minding his own business, spanked the Pacers a little by extension, simply by talking about his team’s historic disregard for the No. 1 seed. What has loomed so large for Indiana all year – and now is like a psychological sword hanging over their heads – didn’t matter one bit through 17 consecutive playoff appearances, five Finals trips and four NBA championships in the Duncan/Popovich era.

“Never,” Popovich said Monday evening. “This will sound really strange to you, but we’ve never had any numerical or positioning goals – ever. Not one time. We’ve never talked about it the entire time I’ve been here.

“The only thing we do is talk about trying to be the best team we can be come playoff time. That’s what we harp on, period. We don’t talk about anything else.”

Then there are the Pacers, who gave Miami – mildly disinterested as the two-time defending champions navigated through the regular season – something they could steal away, turning the screws some on these wannabes.

“It puts us in reality now,” said George. “We’re really missing out on an opportunity right now.”

So what’s the first step for the Pacers now to begin digging out, with seven games that include Miami, Oklahoma City and a trip to Toronto?

“If we knew that, I think we’d be a lot better than we are right now,” George said, appreciating the conundrum. “I think that’s the first step – identifying it.”

As George spoke a couple of times with reporters – with a long, solitary bowed-head-in-hands moment in between – a self-help book rested against the wall of the open stall next to his. You Can Make It Happen – A Nine-Step Plan. The author in pensive pose on the cover: Steadman Graham.

It looked uncracked, which might not be a bad thing. What ails the Pacers might be better addressed on his gal pal’s couch, if only it still were in business. Or on Dr. Phil’s.

VIDEO: Indiana’s players discuss Monday’s blowout loss to San Antonio


  1. koudrus says:

    As the saying goes: if it’s not broken don’t fix it! Bird meddled with the chemistry of the team at the wrong time. Granger WAS the team! Even when he wasn’t playing his best basketball he was still the glue that held everything together. He was the foundation this team was build on and Paul George who is still young and learning needed him as a mentor.
    I’m a Pacers fan and it pains me to acknowledge this but I think that they are already done for the season

  2. JM says:

    Can anyone explain to me why Roy Hibbert, an Allstar bigman, doesn’t average a double-double? Or a Paul George, who has been deemed on the level of the likes of KD and LBJ, does need 20 shots to get 20 pts? Come on Roy. You can’t average 6-plus RPG. And PG, better let the game come to you.

  3. okc2014 says:

    Larry Bird needs to make this statement to the press: “our players will be withholding any and all comments to the press until further notice”. They shoot themselves in the foot by talking. It’s taken out of context and the media is running with that ball. The Pacers will be just fine. All attention is off of the Heat, who have more serious issues if you ask me.

  4. Unkle Daddy says:

    A team can not function well without it’s heart. This team’s heart is in L.A. now… They also sent away their fighter in the offseason, not saying West isn’t a better forward, he is tuff as nails, but he isn’t a fighter like Hansbrough, he will fight you, you need a guy like that, that crazy guy.

  5. KaashMoneyy94 says:

    I really like Frank Vogel as a coach but I can’t help but wonder, is this funk the Pacers are in primarily the coaches fault? I mean everyone plays through a bad stretch but its the coaches job to get them out of it. Vogel needs to turn things around first and foremost

  6. Soulballer says:

    Aint nothing won or lost yet. Focus on your goal Indiana. Quit talking at more press conferences. No more show boating. You should be playing more like the bad boys on a night where offense is not workin your way. Focus on your defense and you will just be fine. Ubuntu!!!

  7. knicksfan says:

    An interesting turn of events that by this past midnight, the Pacers would actually relinquish the best record in the Eastern Conference. Indiana has no one to blame but the team itself. They made a point of getting the best record and home field advantage from Miami who had their own issues brewing. And the Pacers did look like the best team in the NBA but calling themselves the Seahawks of the NBA was the first pin in their voodoo doll of themselves. I liked their team for a while when they were more of a relative unknown last year. If the Pacers are that good, then the home field will not be needed that much as they should be good enough to take a road game from ANYONE! As bad off as my guys are – and they need an overhaul – they still would have given Indiana a going-over in the first round of the conference playoffs. The Pacers seem to operate in jealousy and maybe hatred of the Heat, but ignoring the rest of the league and now finding out that the Spurs can wipe the floor with them. The leadership and togetherness are in question, not the talent. Still, there is enough time to repair the problems.

  8. Stephen says:

    You describe Miami as “mildly disinterested,” but you mean “uninterested.” “Disinterested” means impartial while “uninterested” means lacking interest.

  9. HEAT says:

    It is really funny how all Indy fans have come out today giving many excuses for their team’s downfalls. Now, Larry Bird is to be condemned for the trades he made in order to improve the team. Last time I check all the same people that are complaining today were very happy to have a “stronger team” to beat the HEAT, but I guess that was product of having the number one sit in the East at the moment. The truth is I have never hear any Miami player making excuses about their mistakes, like Hilbert, West, and PG. Indy has a good team, but their young and inexperience, the same with their coach. As a coach you don’t set that kind of goal (#1 East seat) for your team cuz what if they fail, like now. The only thing that did was to build pressure in the mind of the player, and now that they don’t have it, it will be even more demolishing to their mental health. Pacers need to mature that only takes time. Maybe on one or two more years, and a real star. For now stop hating the HEAT because you are above to witness greatness as they reach the finals for the fourth time in a row.

  10. marty says:

    Pacers believed that hype after the fast start..Now their fortitude is being tested with adversity with which their not handling well..Is Bird complicit in this struggle?

  11. Someone says:

    Pacers fans should be chanting “offense”

  12. Dmoney says:

    Pacers got Bynum and Turner thats what happen….Danny Granger should of stayed he was such a big leader on the pacers. I dont see the pacers making the Eastern Conference Finals, they are playing horrible basketball right now.

  13. LBJ says:

    Miami 10 peat! Who’s going to stop us? The east will be cake I predict 12-0 and after a nice long rest after the West kills each other we can stroll in and take the trophy from the geriatric Spurs again or the inexperienced Thunder with their fake mvp!

  14. Russell Eastbrook says:

    If Popovich isn’t COTY then I don’t know what to say

  15. Fefe (Nets) says:

    Here people switch to their vests so easily… One day saying yes PG the real deal; now saying he’s not star material…one day saying Pacers are the best team by far in the East, then now because they are #2 just for the first time this year, they are the 4th or 5th best team in the East… Quite funny but also pitiful

    Truth is: the Pacers have all the potential to win the East and reach the Finals. BUT, right now they are playing terrible; they should find the way to reunite & go back to basics. Go back to playing as a team. PG is very talented, but he needs to free his mind and let the game come to him naturally instead of thinking too much. They should go back to basics; now that they are 2nd they should only care about what to fix, and thinking about the game ahead. They will have a better chance to win like this & will be ready & more confident playoff time.
    To me, it’s all mental. If losing in such ugly fashion night in & night out doesn’t trigger nothing in their minds, then they’re a problem. I’m sure they can work it out.
    They have all the talent to win in this team…now they should act as a unit if they want to be ready for the postseason.

  16. mee(a)t says:

    I never understood the mindset this team had all season. “if we have home court advantage, we can beat the heat”. That isn’t a mindset you want going into the playoffs. The Spurs didn’t let Game 6 cloud their goal, a ring. Pacers shouldn’t let home court advantage cloud their goal, a ring.

    • Kobe says:

      This is why a young team rarely wins championship. This why ppl say “they don’t got what it takes to win a championship”. Championship mindset meaning putting everything aside and win a title first, then complain or whatever. Selfish or not they were doing just find until someone is unhappy starting over amonth ago. They think they’re young and got many years to go, but next thing they realize is they don’t have the same opportunity to play on a team of this caliber and be frustrated like many other mega stars…DH12, CP3, Melo7, etc

  17. nymade says:

    knicks will be the playoffs spoiler

  18. TheKush says:

    I love Larry Bird and he did an excellent job building this team. But trading Granger so late in the season was a mistake. Turner messed up the chemistry on this team and I don’t think Vogol knows how to integrate Turner into the Pacers where as Granger was comfortable in any role.

  19. Petros says:

    I wouldn’t worry too much about this. Good and bad stretches are perfectly normal during an long NBA regular season.

    That being said I have never seen such an impressive team transformation for no apparent reason (Ok they made some trades but it’s not like they traded away any important pieces of their team.). It’s like the whole team (stars and role-players, starters & bench) suddenly entered a period of extremely poor form.

    I’m pretty sure they’ll snap out of it on time to (at the very least) make it to the East Finals but it has been impressive nevertheless.

  20. AnnoYouLater says:

    dont tell me bynum screwed another team…

  21. Heat Fan says:

    This is the team that was supposed to knock of the HEAT? This is the team that everyone said was the best team in the East?! The standings are close but look who is now #1. The problem i have with the Pacers is that they talk too much. Just play the game. If it was for a miracle 3 against the Heat, they would be down 1 game to the heat. They put some much into obtaining the #1 seed, that they forgot about playing as a team and becoming better for the playoffs. They burned themselves out before all-star break and now they have nothing left in the tank. Miami with all its lineup changes and struggles, and not worrying about the #1 seed, are now the #1 seed with a week left in the regular season. Home court advantage is important to the teams that think they can’t win on the road. Teams like Spurs and Heat are smart and veteran. They can win anywhere. i wouldn’t be surprised if we have rematch of last years finals.

    and can we finally say that Paul George is not elite!! It takes him 20 shots to get 18 points. He is not a player you can say, go win me the game. The pacers lack a superstar. They lack a bench as well.

    • Game Time says:

      After watching the hot start Indy had (on that easy schedule) I said this team would start to fizzle out late in the season. They are a good team because of their size and youth. Other than that they are not impressive as a team that plays together, can grind out games, or has a chemistry that is unbreakable. Indy’s main issue is Lance. The guy thinks he’s God’s gift to basketball. You can see it affects PG’s game. Home court advantage or not. Indiana cannot beat (a healthy) Miami team in a series.

  22. Masa says:

    The young guys need some rest, they could not play 35 minutes every single match – the Granger trade add nothing but decrease the perfect balance of the team. Now it’s up to the Coach, he has to recreate the feeling and calm down the potential future stars thinking as a team and not as a single.
    PG24 is a start, he is a leader not only a scorer, he has to grow and he needs a mentor, otherwise he will loose himself and Indiana will come back in being the 6th, 7th team in east

  23. Mack says:

    Last weeks game vs. the Heat spoke volumes. Although I will be pulling for the Pacers, in that game they did not show anything that would make one think they could overtake Miami for the money. No one will say it but Paul George is the problem. Last year he was hungry. Last year he was hustling. Last year he was competing hard. This year, I’m the star. This year I’ll take crazy shots cause I’m the star. This year I will style and profile after every 3 pointer (instead of getting back on D) cause I’m the star. As Chuck D said, “Don’t, Don’t, Don’t Believe The Hype!!!!!” There is no “I” in team, Paul.

    • JustTheStr8Facts says:

      “There is no “I” in team, Paul.”

      There is in wIn.

      All kidding aside, you’re right. As soon as he made AS, his play started going south. The whole team stinks. Hell, the bench was better last year, which is a joke.

  24. Zac says:

    Losing the #1 seed is the best thing that could happen to Indiana.

    The #1 seed will probably playing New York, and if they beat them Brooklyn oder the Bulls.

  25. Granger says:

    Trading granger did the most damage and affected the chemistry of keeping the team in tact. I think lance stephenson got way over his head. He got the skills but lack discipline. paul george is a star but not a superstar. overrated for now. too young to carry the pacers on his shoulders. he still needs some growing up. hibbert is tall and thats all nothing more. west lost his tenacity and showing more of like a spectator. george hill from point guard to what? watch more films from great point guards so that you can learn more. you should’ve never left San Antonio for big $ so that you’ll learn more things. look at gary neal when he went to milwaukee. barely played not even able to show his 3 point skills. and for coach vogel. you are the coach. why are you even listening to your players on what needs to be done? you are the coach so you should know more than your players. and for larry bird. adding turner and bynum is a biggest mistake you have done.

  26. dustydreamnz says:

    I think it was the trade too. The Pacers were shooting well at the start of the season, ok they’re a defensive orientated team but look at how the offensive numbers have dropped! Since the trade they just haven’t been the same. Every team has their rises and falls but this is ridiculous, they’re not even competing most nights.

  27. Kaneman says:

    The Pacers made a huge mistake by trading Granger and signing Bynum, and that’s the result.

    • kobe says:

      im sure the poor play has nothing to do with it…granger gets hurt as much as whats your point..they have hit a wall like all teams do ..

  28. 4pt.Range says:

    This team is strong and has a lot of “winners”. What it lacks. shooters. Get in the gym and improve your shot. Game is technique not just ability and heart.

  29. Martin Chiaravalloti says:

    If things get any worse the number 6 or 7 seed in the West will have home court on the “best” in the east! I guess Pop is glad he didn’t blow up the team after last years loss.

  30. Fromholland! says:

    Ok kd fan..i get it but what do you mean by do well? Get to the finals?

  31. Just a Fan says:

    I still think that the Granger/Turner trade with the addition of Bynum damaged their team chemistry.
    PG, who was very close to Granger, stopped shotting well after the trade and I also think that Stephenson took this trade as an affront because it means that they want to have turner instead of him next year (if he demands high $$).

    Larry Bird doesn’t make a lot of mistakes but I think he did make one here.

  32. asdf says:

    Anyone that still thinks george is a superstar? 🙂 he cant even get 20 on any given night.

  33. Kome the Black Dumba says:

    More like the ref makes sure the Heat can dump the raps. It was an unbelievable one sided game called . Almost looks like the portland vs lakers playoff game back in the 2003?

    • dwade 3 says:

      are you for real? The only reason the pacers won the last game vs Miami is because the refs missed the call on Wade’s awesome 3 near the end of the game and called him out of bounds when he wasn’t. Your a joke dude. what a loser, 4 straight finals appearances.

    • #dwade#flash says:

      april FOOLS!

  34. KDfan says:

    Give the young Pacers team a break. It has been a long season. They have set a high goal to achieve. They are going to experience some hiccups like every other team and unfortunately its coming at the wrong time. They’ll get over it and do well.

    • JustTheStr8Facts says:

      This isn’t just a hiccup. This is an epic downfall.

    • theholyspectator says:

      what a very interesting turn of events for the pacers…like one of the posters mentioned…these guys talk way too big and too much, dont have anything to show for it…people seem to not see that miami dont care about the number 1 seed…when they won their first title (big 3 era) miami was 2nd seed in the east..chicago was the first…rose mvp season…still went all the way to the finals and won the title…shortened season too. anyways whats sad about this team is that they dont have any elite players…when your star player cant even get 20 plus..and you have this big tall dude living in the post and still cant break 90 points? its alarming..tryin fix issues like the ones they have during the playoffs is a very dangerous thing..lookin at pacers schedule..they definitely not gettin the first seed..miamis schedule is much easier and miami looks like they are getting it together on the defensive end…this shows u what being a championship team is all about…regardless how bad things get…champs turn things around and get their act together…indy doesnt have any of that..u cant just think your gonna knock someone out..u needa back up your talk..indy is in no position to do that…i did wanna see indy vs knicks first round tho…they woulda lost that…knicks playing good as of late

      • theholyspectator says:

        my mistake that was the lockout season that miami won the first time against okc but they werent number 1 seed

    • Game Time says:

      High goal in reaching grabbing the number one seed huh? How the heck do they expect to win a championship then?