Forget style points, Pacers get where they hoped to be

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Hawks vs. Pacers: Game 7

INDIANAPOLIS – Maybe this is how it’s going to go for the Indiana Pacers.

No “A” game, no style points, no drive-by games or series. Real skin-of-their-teeth stuff.

No collapses either, though, not in any complete or fatal sense. Stubbed toes, sure, but no missed steps. No coach or teammate thrown under the bus, even if Frank Vogel and Roy Hibbert had a few telltale scuff marks from getting kicked briefly to the curb.

The Pacers, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, dispatched their first-round opponents with a decisive 92-80 beating Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, advancing to the East semifinal round against the Washington Wizards. That represents everything they could have done to this point, right? There was no bye available to skip directly to the East finals, no bonus to be had (beyond a few extra days off) for doing in four or five games what they accomplished in seven.

Then again, it took Indiana the maximum to get past the No. 8 seed, a sub-.500 entry whose best player (Al Horford) hasn’t played a lick since December due to injury. The Pacers were pushed to flex their home-court advantage about a month earlier than they’d planned and even then, they only went 2-2 at BLFH in the series.

Even then, it took the Hawks missing 59 of 79 3-pointers (25.3 percent accuracy) in Games 6 and 7 combined for the Pacers to put them down. Atlanta shot 38.5 percent in the series, 30.4 in the clincher. Indiana did block 13 shots (six by David West, five by Hibbert and a breathtaking snuff at the halftime horn by Ian Mahinmi against a dunk-minded Jeff Teague), but it was clear the Hawks felt they misfired way too often on their own.

“I think it’s always important,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said, “to give the defense credit when we don’t shoot well, but … I thought we had some good looks at the rim, some good looks in transition. We had some good looks at three’s.”

In other words, no disrespect to the Pacers but Paul Millsap (6-of-21), Teague (5-of-16), Mike Scott (5-of-14) and the rest would like a few of those looks again, please.

All of which is to say, Indiana got done what it was supposed to and, frankly, what it had to do to avoid a summer of a thousand cuts. People have been poised to either proclaim the Pacers back or pronounce them dead, and here they are, two weeks into the postseason, right where they and everyone expected them to be.

Mission (gasp!) accomplished.

Dominant? No. Despite Paul George‘s huge game (30 points, 11 rebounds) and series (six double-doubles) and some early-season defensive stats, most inside and outside the Pacers’ circle have been fooled too often by false starts – vs. Chicago, vs. Miami, vs. OKC – to claim they’re back-back.

But disqualified? No, not that either. They remain somewhere in the middle, not exactly who they’d been but stirring a bit from what they had become. No longer headliners, not yet flatliners.

Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel couldn’t lie when asked if the mood in his locker room afterward was more elation or relief. “I don’t know, maybe a little of both,” he said.

Vogel has been the guy with his fingers in the dyke as Indiana, so stellar in the season’s first half, sprang leak after leak after leak. Defense, confidence, George’s shooting, chemistry, Hibbert’s emotional state and so on – Vogel was on the verge of doffing a shoe and a sock, the way the leaks kept opening.

“I don’t feel like we ever strayed that far from who we are, especially on the defensive end,” Vogel said, resolutely half-full vs. half-empty.

Hibbert’s big fade late in the season was blamed on fatigue. His near-disappearance in this series got attributed to a “matchup challenge,” Atlanta’s “stretch five” attack stranding him in no man’s land defensively. While there was considerable truth in that, the 7-foot-2 center and the guys who play around him were relieved that he roused from the slab in Game 7.

He’d been no factor in the previous three, totaling six points, five rebounds and four blocks in 49 minutes. But he topped that in just 31 this time: 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks. Vogel gave Hibbert credit for 4-for-6 shooting in the first half and the big guy tied for the game’s top plus/minus with 16. He’d been minus-12 in a mere 12 minutes in Game 6.

This was a man who finally could exhale. And look forward to a foe in the next round with some legit bigs (Washington’s Marcin Gortat and Nene).

“Despite what everybody says, we know we’re a good team,” Hibbert said. “Nobody said it was going to be easy. One thing Coach talked to us was, when the Celtics won their [2008] championship, they got taken to seven games by the Atlanta Hawks [in the first round]. So I’m sure people were talking about them as well.”

Uh, not like this.

But that’s where Indiana is at now, the what crowding out the how as they try simply to win four more in the next seven.

“I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t concerned. Of course,” forward Chris Copeland said. “I hate to get into that. I believe it feeds negativity. I don’t like to acknowledge anything other than the success we’ve had. For me, we should just keep looking up.

“When you keep looking back and saying, ‘We’ve had struggles, and this and that,’ I think it brings on second-guessing yourself. Are we back? You start to question.

“Everything to me, despite the bumps in the road, has gone fine to this point, when you really think about it. Where did we go? We went to the next level. Now we’re 0-0 just like we would like to be. Let’s just keep it moving.”

Maybe it goes like this for Indiana, grimier, less convincing, for another round. Or more.

20 Comments

  1. Z says:

    Blue collar gold swaggger legggoo

  2. Brain32 says:

    Pacers were barely watchable against Atlanta, last time I watched their game was before ALL-STAR break, it’s nowhere near that…something completely changed them, not in a good way at that.

  3. Jack says:

    I wouldn’t write the Pacers off just yet.

    They played a team that lived and died by the three. Teams like that are inconsistent but tough to beat when they get hot for a handful of games. The Pacers are also poorly equipped to deal with a 5 man three point shooting squad.

    Washington is a completely different team.

  4. Jordan says:

    Honestly I don’t think pacers have a chance….they could barely beat the hawks….wizards are hungry and playing great basketball……I say wizards sweep IND

    • Mr Website says:

      I dont think you see last game of wizard, them win because chicago no had their main staff. IND in 6 games and hopefully Brok in 7 hard hard games

  5. bodjee says:

    Good coaching!

  6. okc2014 says:

    I think the Hawks did a great job this entire season. I’m looking forward to the Wizards also giving the Pacers a run for their money. I’m betting on the Wizards, but it’s probably again going to be decided by which Pacers team shows up. Let’s play!

  7. slamajambam says:

    hopefully for the nba sakes we see a greater version of the pacers in the semis. if they play the wiz just like the hawks we might as well put the heat in the finals. please pacers(as a bulls fan i hate rooting for indy) at least make the ecf i rather see a 7 game series then a 5 game series.

  8. jdub455 says:

    Just an evenly matched series… interested to see the pacers against the wiz… they should do better against this wiz team cause their bigs aren’t shooters… but if they still have a hard time, then we all know that they cant beat the Heat despite homecourt adv…

  9. mikecz says:

    I am rooting for Brooklyn today. We won’t have to worry about a Miami 3-peat, unless they play much better than the 0-4 they did against the Nets this season. Paul George looked like Lebron on Sunday afternoon, willing his team to win.

  10. iamironman says:

    washington in 6. Hibbert will be pushed around by Nene because of his softness. Match-ups will be:
    Wall:Hill
    Beal:Stephenson
    Ariza:George
    Gortat:West
    Nene:Hibbert. Wiz to the ECF!

  11. Kws1066 says:

    I don’t get why everyone’s beating on the pacers right now tho! I mean sure they had a big slump and they may still be in it but some of the best teams have had to take 7 games to win! Like OKC and the spurs may not even win, so maybe we should give them a break. It wasn’t pretty but they got the job done when we all thought they wouldn’t.

    • 0_o? says:

      Do Memphis and Dallas looks weak to you? if conley and randolph played on game 7, OKC’s chances to advance would be very questionable. idiot. Atlanta didn’t even have Horford and they took pacers to 7 games.. let’s see how they do against Washington..

    • okckd35 says:

      Spurs and thunder are in the west playing against much better teams…

    • aces says:

      Hey bro, Memphis would actually favored against indy of b they were in the east. ..we would be talking bout a mia vs mem ecf….hawks had a below .500 record without their best player n had alot of chances to still win in 6. Indy lost it n will get beat by wizards unless they get their act together

  12. LBJKIN6JAMES says:

    The pacers don’t have a chance against the heat, that’s “IF” they get past the wizards. I smell a 3 PEAT! #HEATNATION-STANDUP!

    • riley says:

      man you heat fans are dumb, if the pacers get into the conference finals they will destroy miami end of story sorry bro

    • chris says:

      Pretty sure the pacers won the season series against the heat. So don’t say they don’t stand a chance, that’s just freakin idiotic. Not to mention the heat beat the bobcats and the bobcats best player wasn’t healthy. The heat didn’t play their best ball at the end of the season either. And in the middle of this slump guess who the pacers beat…. the heat.

    • TJ says:

      Go comment about the Heat on a column about the Heat.