Maybe the Indiana Pacers thrived this week where other NBA teams might not have survived by playing mental tricks with themselves: They weren’t playing three games in three nights, really – they were just playing a couple of back-to-back’s all squished together.
Maybe the Pacers beat the Bulls, the Hawks and the 76ers in rapid succession Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday – three victories in fewer hours than any other team in the league this season – because of the motivation they drew from persecution and paranoia. Let Indiana deal with three in a row. Who’ll notice? So the Pacers played 144 minutes while balancing chips on their shoulders and turned perceived disrespect into something distinctive.
Or maybe the Pacers simply met the latest challenge thrown at them, grew in the process and will be better off for it going forward. Sounded a little like that, from guard George Hill’s postgame comments in Philly.
“I don’t think anyone expected us to go 3-0 when this thing was put in place” Hill said. “We knew we could do the unthinkable and get the job done. We had the confidence to do it. I just think we wanted it more.”
Well, not exactly, since no one else in the NBA has faced or will face three in three nights this season. That bit of post-lockout nostalgia was dropped on the Pacers after their home game against Chicago Dec. 26 was postponed by a snowstorm (both teams were present for that night’s game but Indiana’s front office was worried about fans traveling to/from Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and the league agreed).
The Pacers felt there were enough other seams in their and the Bulls’ schedules that the NBA need not have stuck the make-up game immediately in front of the home-road couplet against Atlanta and Philadelphia. The coaches and players, however, didn’t get a vote. So the former tried to downplay it, lest it loom large as an ordeal. The latter felt a little sorry for themselves but mostly got busy.
The result? Three victories in about 50 hours and a season-best five-game winning streak. Two at the Fieldhouse to run their home record to 20-3, then a roadie that gets them back to Indy for nine of their next 11 games.
Indiana won each game by 10 or more points. It shot 52.7 percent against Chicago, scored a season-high 114 points on Atlanta and (while shooting a rubber-legged 39 percent) held Philadelphia to just 69 points. No Joakim Noah or Derrick Rose, no Lou Williams or Zaza Pachulia and Thaddeus Young or Andrew Bynum? Well, no one was feeling sorry for the Pacers either.
Paul George played nearly 124 minutes in the three games, amassing 65 points, 21 rebounds and 16 assists, and both David West and Hill cracked the 100-minute mark.
Obviously, the Pacers wouldn’t have chosen to put themselves through this relative ordeal. But coach Frank Vogel deserves credit for treating it merely as a freakish back-to-back – with two tails – and bonus points for using a clip from the 1989 movie “Major League” to motivate his squad.
That’s way better that than slicing-and-dicing “Hoosiers” for the zillionth time in a basketball locker room. (It’s not clear if he used this clip, since NBA schedule-meister Matt Winick or commish David Stern would not have made for attractive cardboard cutouts.)
Now that they’re through with it, the Pacers can draw inspiration from having stuck their landing. Things are looking up, with George’s breakout as an East All-Star and forward Danny Granger’s imminent return from a season-long knee injury. After this, the players will have a reservoir of confidence to draw from when they feel picked on or disrespected. Like, for instance, when some playoff whistles stack up in Miami’s or Chicago’s favor.
“I guess we have to earn respect,” Hill told the Indianapolis Star. “We’re fine with that. We’re used to being the underdog. Playing that way gives us motivation and a chip on our shoulder. It also forces people to rethink what they do to us.”