Fun gone, Pacers cannot stand success

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Gortat’s big game helps Wizards beat Pacers, stay alive

INDIANAPOLIS – As they lick their wounds again and assure themselves, again, that they’ll be all right, the Indiana Pacers might be revealing what their biggest problem is in this Eastern Conference semifinal series and perhaps has been for a while.

They aren’t fearful of the Washington Wizards. They aren’t overmatched or intimidated, and they certainly aren’t taking the Wizards lightly.

The Pacers are jealous of the Wizards.

Oh, to be younger and inexperienced and unencumbered by expectations. To be the underdogs – ahh! – who had the ability to surprise and overachieve and feel good with each little victory, regardless even of the outcome of games. It wasn’t that long ago that the Pacers were that team.

With the Miami Heat grabbing all the attention from The Decision of July 2010 going forward, with the Chicago Bulls and Derrick Rose playing peek-a-boo as regular-season heroes and a legit but hobbled contender, it wasn’t that long ago that the Pacers were the Wizards.

On the rise. playing with abandon. Making names and reputations for themselves, with little or no anxiety over disappointing someone. That’s the Indiana team that earned all the respect and preseason predictions heading into 2013-14, that’s the Indiana team that had all the fun.

But that Indiana team is gone forever, erased by the Pacers’ success through the first four months (46-13 through March 2) and weighed down ever since by the expectations, knee-deep praise and dealing with the shift from chasers to chased.

You scoff? Who had more fun in Game 5 Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the on-the-brink Wizards or the three-games-to-win-one Pacers? The game was a rout, with Washington leading by as much as 30 while pounding their hosts in all sorts of NSFW ways on the glass.

Nearly tripling the other guys in total rebounds (62-23)? Whoa. Wizards coach Randy Wittman paused and admitted he never had seen anything like that. For much of the night, Marcin (The Dream) Gortat had as many boards as the whole Indiana team. The upstarts wound up with nearly as many offensive rebounds (18) as the Pacers grabbed defensively (19).

Gortat attacked Indiana from the start like he sensed their vulnerability, the tentativeness that has hovered over the East’s No. 1 seed since March. He tossed in hook shots, threw down dunks, mixed in a turnaround or two from the baselines and growled loudly enough that Indiana’s Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi sought cover.

But frankly, they had company on a Pacers squad that, lately, might not say boo if you took their jerseys, their dogs and their parking spaces. If Larry Bird wasn’t sick to his stomach watching his team’s performance Tuesday, then the smirking assassin everyone remembers from his Boston Celtics days either has been lobotomized or gelded.

“It’s everything: Shocking. Disappointing,” said forward Paul George, who would have had to ring up another 39 to keep his team in this one. He didn’t, scoring 15.

“We’re better than that. No way we should allow a team on our floor to outrebound us by 40. Regardless of if we’re playing a team full of 7-footers. That’s unacceptable.”

It was, in short, the kind of performance a bunch of newbies might be permitted to have – not far off Washington’s 63-point mess in Game 3 – but not the big, bad leaders of the East.

“Not when you’re a group that’s been together for a while,” George said, agreeing. “Not with a group that, like us, has been together, been through so much. A lot of adversity. It should be easy to treat a game like it’s a win-or-go-home game, especially when you have the opportunity to close them out. We’ve done it before in other series, where we took care of business when we needed to. So it’s no excuse for this one.”

No excuses, just explanations. Gortat having the night of his life, banging and scoring enough for both himself and the barely visible Nene. Wittman had his players pressure up defensively this time, exploiting Indiana’s unreliable ball handlers and, more important, dialing up the game’s pace to more than walk-it-up.

And then there was John Wall, Washington’s point guard who had sputtered through most of the first four games. He is kind of a one-man Indiana in terms of his career arc and the expectations heaped upon him now, four years in with an $80 million contract, All-Star acclaim and impatience among Wizards fans for something beyond individual achievements.

Gortat spoke after the game of the shell into which Wall had retreated all day Tuesday, no rapping, no laughing, hardly any words. Wittman did what he could to try to shake him loose from it.

“John was down on himself a little bit this morning,” the Wizards coach said. “I told him, the point where he’s getting in his career, he’s an All-Star and now he’s in the second round of the playoffs for the first time, that ‘you have to have a thick skin. You have to forget quickly and you have to move on.’

“I told him I wanted him to come out tonight and just play like a wild man. ‘If you have 20 turnovers, you have 20 turnovers. I want you, though, energizing our guys, racing the ball up and down the floor, defensively getting after it,’ and he did that.”

Wall played with an abandon the Pacers, however much they once had it, lost around the time our clocks sprung forward. He finished with 27 points – 17 in the game-breaking 31-14 third quarter, when he topped the Pacers by his lonesome – and was woofing by the end.

Wall had more fun, and a sense of relief and rebirth, than the entire Indiana squad. Over on the other side, George was trying to explain, and maybe sell, what had gone on with his team at the absolute worst time. And you could sense some longing for the days when he and the Pacers were the ones trying to make their bones.

They’re at the other end of the expectations now.

“We get too happy. We get too happy,” Paul said. “We don’t carry that same mindset after we win a couple of games. We get comfortable and we feel like, because we’re starting to play a little better, that things are just going to get right. We don’t bring that edge, that these are must-win games.”

The Pacers claimed they tried to play Tuesday as if they were facing a Game 7. They failed, instead inching closer to a real one.

16 Comments

  1. Blog-So-Hard-2014 says:

    Pacers don’t have a “go-to” guy

  2. MC_Ind says:

    I’m tired of hearing all of this talk about the Wizards being “young”. They only have Wall and Beal that are young and inexperienced. Gortat, Nene, Ariza, Andre Miller, Drew Gooden? All of those guys are over 30 and a couple are pushing 40! The Pacers are the better team. They will clinch this series tonight with a win in game 6, and when they play the Heat the next round all the haters will still be hating.

  3. DonArturo says:

    62-23 Boards? seriously? This isnt the same Pacers the Heat faced last year and yeah the Heat will torch them – again.

  4. John Daniel says:

    It goes even further than that. it seems to me that most NBA players suffrer from an inferiority complex, especially when they face teams with superstars. they get inimidated and end up making silly mistakes which cost them losing games. In these cases the frenchise should hire a good success coach like Tony Robbins to help them deal with success. The only reason why the Nets were standing up to to Miami is because Garnett and Pierce know what success is all about, unfortunately they’old.

  5. okc2014 says:

    Lance Stephenson is key to the Pacers winning this series. I still say the Pacers win the series. But if the Wizards win I will be very happy. Gotta love John Wall and Bradley Beal!

  6. TROYBOY says:

    This LEADER thing is over rated.

    Who was the leader on the Pistons when they won their last championship? Who was the leader when Shaq and Kobe won? Who is the leader in San Antonio? Is it Duncan, Parker, or The Coach? Who is it for OKC? Durant or Westbrook? Who is it for the Wizards, Nets, and The Trailblazers?

    The Pacers are the only ones that believe they can win. Ugly for the most part but they still get the job done. Let’s see what people say after Game 7 @ Home against the Heat.

  7. TROYBOY says:

    I hope this goes to game 7. The Pacers know they will win this series. So why not take it to 7 games and make money for the team as far as sell outs at home.

  8. ism says:

    Defense wins championships. If consistent. And usually only among elite offensive teams, anyway. The Pacers’ D has not only to be 100 per cent consistent but also of stellar quality because they still don’t have an offensive plan, style or lineup that is even remotely on par with those of the Spurs, Heat, Thunder or Clippers, to name just a few.

    So, unless the Pacers come up with an unbelievable amount of low-scoring, low-pace, grind-out games, I see them losing against the Heat, if not against the Wizards.

  9. Jon83Alumni says:

    I think the Pacers need to heat up on the defensive side. Roy needs to start playing like the all star we know he is and focus on changing shots inside and rebounding at his best. If he can do that then George can focus on getting points offensively and leading his team on offense. If they can play at a higher level than they did last game I have no doubt they’ll finish the wizards. They also need to realize they could go all the way this season. A chance at winning should be motivation enough. If they can keep that mindset of winning it all they can at least make it to the finals this season. It’s all a matter of if they can heat up and keep it burning through the playoffs.

  10. None Of The Above says:

    It’s like the Pacers are two entirely different teams. They look the same, have the same names, but can play like they are different people altogether. Getting beaten by 23 at home in a potential series closer and out rebounded by 62 to 23 should never happen. Kiwi mentioned lack of leadership which does seem to be the case. Paul George isn’t ready for that role yet, but the player who could or perhaps should be their leader until he is ready is David West.

  11. Myrna Brasie says:

    you obviously haven’t been paying close attention to the games; if you had/have been you would have seen the expressions on Larry Bird’s face and you would KNOW that he has neither been lobotomized or gelded!!!

  12. thespectator says:

    its really about championship mindset…teams that have won titles obviously have it, ie heat, spurs…but other contenders…show that mindset during their run to the finals….OKC, Clipps..but this indiana team..they playin teams that they should be beating yet they push them to game 7s…like kiwi was saying..where is indianas go to leader that gets everyone focused out there on the court? more importantly…one thing i see PG lacks is that killer, give me the ball and leme score mentality..the guy who takes over games…miami got lebron, sprurs got tony parker, okc gots durant…clippers have paul…these guys demand the ball and do whatever necessary..i thought PG had it when they won in dominating fashion in game 4 back in washington…PG is not a consistent player..and maybe he has to go thru these failures to get there…but anyways..i still see pacers winning this series..if they lose game 6 in washington then its a wrap…as far as them and the heat…at this point its a toss up, ya they match up better than heat, but miami are the champs and they have the heart of a champion and id rather give the ball to lebron when its crunch time then give it to PG..

  13. Jr. Samples says:

    I knew before this game the Pacers would lose. George is right on they get complacent after a couple wins. They do not possess that killer instinct. The Wizards play better on the road. They are a very young team and home for them has distractions. Pacers will win Game 6 at Washington.

  14. Kiwi says:

    Completely agree with this article. Pacers don’t seem to have a real leader who can get into the minds of the players when they go through adversity. When the going gets tough for the elite teams, the leaders knuckle down and let everyone know it’s going to be alright. Pacer’s seem to just starting arguing with each other, maybe they are immature r they still have high school and street ball mentality’s. Maybe they need a vet to come in with a big CV and a big mouth whose going to put them in their place. Or get a coach with a big CV. Maybe they just need to have a team meeting and depict themselves as the down and out guys, the hard done by guys, the team people have written off and give themselves some more motivation.

    Either way, I use to really root for these guys but I feel like they’ve shown their true colours now and I don’t like them. I hope the Wizards up end them…… I doubt they will but I hope they do.

  15. big hoss says:

    I got Indiana over the heat in seven . Just a bad matchup for the heat . The floppers ain’t winnin this one .

    • TMac says:

      If Pacers keep up what they are doing, then they will lose to the Heat in 6. When a few things go wrong, they fall apart at the seams….they can’t keep their composure. I will give them credit for capitalizing on Washington’s bone headedness in game 4 to steal the win, but that was more of Washington’s own doing more than the Pacers. I had Indiana as the toughest team to beat for Miami, but now? Pacers are not that dangerous as I once thought they were.