Then again, Madison Bumgarner is not going to pitch every single game. Even if I'm sure he would like to.
It's just one game, I know. You don't want to read too much into it. But, man, did this game not feel like "Rocktober" a few years ago? The similarities are staggering. Think back to that Rockies run of 2008 (if memory serves). They were left for dead midway through the season and then got unbelievably hot. They won a play in game in improbable fashion. They sweep their way through the first two rounds after that, and then are hit with a long layoff until the World Series. And when they got there? They went ice cold. Again, obviously, we don't know that this will continue for four games with the Royals. But it has to enter your mind, doesn't it?
Then again, Madison Bumgarner is not going to pitch every single game. Even if I'm sure he would like to.
Who would have guessed the Royals would be in the World Series again before the Cubs? Who would have guessed the Royals would be in the World Series before the Chiefs won another playoff game? What a crazy ride.
To speak to scoring this game, I wouldn't have even given Hosmer one RBI, but TBS went out of their way to insist he was credited with one, so I have grudgingly went with it. Also, I didn't realize until after I scanned it I missed the attendance. That was 40,468, which is now on my hard copies.
Well, that was a hell of a way to kick off the playoffs and/or end an almost three decade playoff drought. I still firmly maintain that the Royals won that game in spite of Ned Yost. Between the "Billy Butler Episode" where he tried some fancy base running with two of the slowest guys in the game and throwing a very young starter into the middle of the sixth inning, the Royals ship should have been sunk. But they pulled it out somehow. Here's my scorecard for the game.
There comes a time when you have to admit that you are not a kid anymore.
Well, actually, that's not quite true. There are a series of moments that keep reminding of you of that fact. They are different for everyone. Everybody uses a different yardstick. Unsurprisingly, I tie a lot of the passage of time to sport, and last night was one of those moments.
I watched baseball before Derek Jeter broke into the big leagues in 1995. My earliest clear memory is of the Blue Jays-Phillies World Series, which was in 1993. That memory would peg me at seven years old. Which means I would have been nine when Derek Jeter made his debut with the Yankees.
Like it or not, the Yankees tend to define baseball. They demand the most attention in the nation's biggest media market,* they typically have the biggest names,** and they are just about always contenders.*** So, of course, their stars become the nation's stars, whether you can stand the Yankees or not. And that was certainly true of Derek Jeter.
*And quite possibly the biggest media market in the world, though I haven't researched that at all.
**Even if those names tend to be a bit long in the tooth.
***This is the first year in the Wild Card era that neither the Yankees or the Red Sox will be in the playoffs.
With his retirement, the debate about this defense has raged back and forth all over again, as it has his entire career. My take? He was a solid shortstop. Not the greatest, but much better than his detractors would suggest. Yes, he played with some flair, as his signature jump throw would suggest. And, yes, I would readily agree that most of that flair came about from having somewhat limited range as a shortstop. But the fact remains that he made those plays. Whether it looked as smooth (or routine, maybe) as an Omar Vizquel or somebody similar in their prime, the box score didn't change. 6-3, batter out.
I went through my Jeter-hating stage. Any confirmed Yankee hater would, especially in the late '90's when the Yankees were seemingly winning every year. But as the years have gone by, I have softened my stance on Jeter. You're not going to find me rooting for the Yankees anytime soon, but I have found nothing but respect for number two.*
*Yeah, he probably could have put a stop to all the merchandising of his retirement tour this year, and I wish he would have. But I can't blame him for it, either. It's the world we live in.
He has put in two decades of being the highest visibility player in the sport in a pretty savage media town. And what is the worst you ever heard about Jeter? That he sent his women gift baskets? Let me tell you, if that's the worst you can say about a guy, he's done pretty well. He has squeezed every last bit of opportunity and effort out of the talent he was graced with. He has approached the game with nothing but respect. He always plays hard. If he had just worn stirrups, he would be the perfect image of a baseball player.
And last night? Of course last night would end how it did. He has clearly been blessed as a ball player. Part of that comes from always playing in high profile spots, but I'll be damned if he didn't come through at the biggest times. He's not infallible, of course, but think of the stories you will tell about Jeter, especially if you have gotten to watch him from start to finish. The Flip. Mr. November. Busting his face in the stands against the Red Sox, Homering for his 3,000th hit. A bottom of the ninth walk-off hit in his final game in Yankee Stadium. You can dispute if "clutch" is really a thing or not all you want. All I know is seemingly every time a situation came up that you wouldn't dare put into a movie for being to fanciful, Jeter made it reality.
And, you know, even the way he got last night's walk-off was better than a scriptwriter would have come up with. A screenplay would want him to hit the ball over the fence to close the book. But a little inside-out slice into right field was far more in character for Jeter, as Grantland (somewhat psychically) pointed the other day. He has been a nearly-Gwynn-like machine about flipping the ball into the 3.5 hole.*
*To use a Gwynn-like term. As good as Jeter has been, though, I don't believe he is quite Tony Gwynn's level.
Baseball will miss Jeter. I will miss Jeter. As I've written here before, he is the first superstar baseball player I have gotten to watch from start to finish. And, you know, he did it the right way. Or, at least, the old fashioned way. And I have nothing but respect for him, and I have no choice but to respect his decision to call it a career at shortstop after last night. We'll get a few bonus at bats in Boston, sure. But as far as the storybook is concerned? I think we just reached The End.
Thank you, Jeter. I may not have always been your biggest fan, but you have made me into a bit of a convert.
I am briefly popping my head out of the ground for a quick update. There has been quite a bit of upheaval around Casa de Parrish recently, so my hiatus here has been a bit longer than planned.
First off, as far as scheduling is concerned, the current break should last through November. At this point, my usual break for NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, and it seems silly to get back into the habit of posting every day again just to stop a month later. So expect me back in December.
Now, as far as why things went so long. First off, the hockey book is on hiatus as well. It turns out there is next to no information on the Western Michigan Wolves and the early years of the Kalamazoo Wings on the internet, or even in the league office. This is not to say that this book will never be written, but it's going to take more digging than previously thought to make this book what it should be.
Why can't I dig as deeply or as quickly as thought? Well, that's because I'm finally free of bonds of contractual labor at Alcoa. After years of trying, I am finally a full-time Purdue employee. It has been quite a transition, but a nice one. It's kind of funny how it finally came about, so let me tell the story in full.
I've had different phone interviews with Purdue before, and countless applications sent in. I thought I had landed a job with Agriculture IT after two rounds of face-to-face interviews there which culminated in a ding letter mere hours after my father-in-law had a heart attack.* I hadn't had any serious action from Purdue since then until this summer.
*That was a banner day, let me tell you.
Back in June, I had a promising phone interview in connection with some software Purdue had developed. I would be, as I understood it, somewhere between a consultant and a support agent for this software. This phone interview led to an all-day in-person interview that ended with me giving a presentation on their software. After meeting what felt like everybody remotely connected to this software and then getting to tell the people that write, support, and "sell" this software about their own product, I was pretty fried, but confident. I made sure to stop by Harry's and treat myself to a draught Old Style after that one. I went home and expected the inevitable call to start discussing the nuts and bolts of an offer.
The next day, my phone rang. It was Purdue, but it was not the position I had just interviewed for. It was instead to come in and interview for a different position that I, frankly, did not even remember applying for.* As confident as I was I had the other job, I remembered how things went down with Ag IT the year before and quickly agreed to come in later the next afternoon. When I got there, I sat down and had a quick, breezy interview. I was probably a bit more loose in that interview than usual, thinking this was merely a back up plan.
*This is not surprising, though. Like I said, I applied to Purdue so many times for so many positions, there is no way to remember them all.
It turns out, it was a good idea to have a back up plan. The second job quickly moved into ironing out nuts and bolts of an offer, while the first job went silent. It was to the point where I hoped I would have an offer on the table from the second job before I left on vacation so I wouldn't have to worry about coming back to Alcoa. That didn't quite work out, but it was close. I had a little bit of contact with Purdue while I was on vacation just to through the fine print, so to speak, and was emailed on that Sunday we returned that I had an offer that I needed to come in and sign on Monday.
First thing Monday morning, I put in three days' notice with Alcoa. A bit short, but Purdue did want me to start quickly so I was in and somewhat trained before school started. Could I have worked a week? Oh, probably. But I hardly had three days worth of things to finish up at Alcoa,* and I certainly wasn't going to start anything new. Besides, for as much as I had put up with for practically nothing for two years, I had no qualms about taking a couple days for myself. I was a contractor for a company that had absolutely no intention of hiring me on full time, nor any intention of giving any sort of raise or better benefits, but still have practically all the responsibilities of other full time employees.
*Remember, I was coming back from a vacation, so I had nearly everything as wrapped up as possible before I left for that anyway.
So, yeah, they were lucky to get three days out of me, honestly. I left to a rather nasty email that was sent to all of Alcoa Lafayette about how I had put everybody in a bind. I struggled mightily to care.
I started the next Monday at Purdue and have now been here for a month and eleven days.* I have settled in nicely here and have opened all sorts of doors now both for myself and my immediate family. The benefits are awesome, the pay increase was substantial, tuition benefits are awfully nice not just for myself and Kristine, but for our future children as well. Everything is good with us.
*But who's counting?
Now that things have settled down for me, I feel like it's about time for me to get back into the routine of posting here again as well. And it will happen, just not yet, for what I said above. It's nice to get back to writing, especially doing it in an academic setting. I'm guessing that by the time I'm back to writing here every day, the NFL mess will have more or less settled down, but that's okay. There's always something new to write about in the world sports, right?
We’re taking a bit of a break in this hiatus to answer a question that popped into my head the other day. Since baseball went to the three division set-up in the 1995 season, what division has been the most successful?
Of course, there are many ways to define success. How many world titles or pennants has a division won? How good are they from top to bottom? How consistent are they? So, I went about collecting all the data I could think of to answer this question. If you want to see the raw data I worked with, click here.
Going into it, I assumed I would come out thinking the American League East would be my answer. And there certainly is a very good argument to have there. The Yankees and Red Sox account for eight of the 19 World Series Champions in the wild card era. This division has also lost another three World Series, with would be 11 appearances over 19 attempts. Another area strengthening that position is wild card berths. If your division has the wild card,* that would certainly seem to suggest that it was the strongest in that league that year. And the AL East has had a whopping 15 wild card berths since 1995. Compare that to the AL Central’s 2 and the AL West’s 4.
*Yeah, there are now two wild cards, which dilutes this argument a bit going forward. But it’s not been long enough yet to really take that into too much consideration.
Here’s my issue: the AL East’s success almost entirely rides on two teams during this time period: the Yankees and the Red Sox. Beyond what has already been covered, those two teams have combined for 16 of the 19 division crowns* in this time period. If you take those two teams out of the equation, you now have no World Series champions, just a single appearance from the Rays, and only four wild card berths split between the Rays and the Orioles. All but one of those appearances happened from 2008 on. The AL East is also home to one of the two teams who have never made an appearance in the playoffs since the three division format: the Toronto Blue Jays.** So, sure, the AL East is ridiculously strong at the top, but the bottom half is failing it here. Is that enough to call it the strongest division?
*Granted, this is 13 for the Yankees and three for the Red Sox, but the point still stands.
**The Kansas City Royals are the other team. We’ll get into that more in a minute.
Let’s take a good look around the other divisions. You can pretty well dismiss the two Central divisions out of hand. The AL Central has only one World Title to it’s name, and it was a bit of a miracle run out of the White Sox in 2005. They’ve not really come close to duplicating that success before or since. They can boast a few more appearances with the Indians in the mid-90’s and the Tigers here as of late, but those teams have all lost series in which they were favored.* The Royals have never made the playoffs under the current format. They also have the lowest average number of wins from 1995-2013. 81 wins would, obviously, be completely average. The AL Central is the lowest at 77.9. Over four games under .500. Suffice to say, nobody is going to regard this division as murderer's row.
*The Tigers in particular have lost pretty badly. The first Indians loss to the Braves was probably expected, but the second to the Marlins was pretty bad, even if it was a seven game series.
The NL Central has been almost as bad. Their average wins over that same stretch is only slightly better at 78.6. All of their World Series appearances except one are by the Cardinals, and that lone other appearance was an Astros team that was swept and just all around dominated by the aforementioned White Sox. The only argument the NL Central has going for it is has nine wild card berths, most in the National League. They are pretty well spread out, too. All six teams have captured at least one, and none more than three. Still, it seems to be a pretty weak argument if you do nothing with those berths, which would seem to be the case. Paired with a failing average win total, I would consider the midwestern teams the worst collection in the league. Sadly enough.
So we’ve covered the middle of the country and the AL East. Let’s finish off the AL, then, shall we? This division has had only four teams, and it has been a much stronger division than you might think. It certainly surprised me. This division has the highest average win total, sitting at 82.8 over this span. This included two consecutive years (2001-2) of average win totals over 90, the only division to do so. It has also been a remarkably balanced division. Each of the four teams* have captured the wild card once. They’ve also very fairly shared the division crown: The A’s have six, the Angels and Rangers each have five, and the Mariners have three. It would seem a slam dunk to name this the best regular season division in baseball since 1995. The problem is the playoffs. This division falls here, and it falls hard. Only one championship to its name, coming with the Angels back in 2002. In fact, that would be the only appearance if not for the Rangers losing in both 2010 and 2011, both in series in which the Rangers were favored. You know who certainly didn’t make any World Series appearances during this time? The A’s and Mariners during this stretch when they were routinely winning 100+ games. This kind of track record in the playoffs would seem to eliminate the AL West from this running.
*We’re not counting the Astros for these purposes.
Let’s switch our focus back to the National League, and we might as well start out East again, as we did with the American League. At first glance, this would seem to be a strong contender. Their average win total is a respectable 81.1. They have six wild card berths, which isn’t bad, and fairly split between the Braves, Marlins, and Mets, all with two each. They’ve also done well in the World Series, winning four titles with three different teams: Braves, Phillies, and two with the Marlins. As much as I would like to discount the two Marlins wins because of the immediate fire sales afterwards, that doesn’t take away the fact that they happened. You can also add another two appearances from the Braves, another trip out of the Phillies, and one for the Mets as well, bringing their total appearances to eight. The only problem, it seems, with this division is it is so top heavy. The Braves have won 12 of the 19 division crowns over the time period. The Braves are also seen as quite the disappointment only to win one World Series with the kind of pitching staff it boasted in the 90’s. Even so, it’s a very strong contender, and still seems more evenly spread than the AL East. In fact, right at this moment, I think I would give it the nod, thanks to similar numbers but more even results.
That leaves us with the NL West. Like it’s American counterparts, this division surprised me. My first memory of this division was of the season when it looked like it wouldn’t produce a winning record. But, surprisingly, they checked in at almost exactly 81 average wins, so that apparently was an uncharacteristic swoon. They have also produced more World Series teams than you might remember. This division has been to the final round six times and won half of them. The Giants have won two lately, and the Diamondbacks upset the Yankees back in 2001. You probably remember the Giants run to the World Series with Barry Bonds in 2002, and there’s a chance you remember the magical year of the Rockies in 2007. You might have forgotten about the 1998 San Diego Padres, though. It was a quick series, and the Padres were thoroughly overmatched by the Yankees that year. But they made it, by God. This division has also captured a respectable six wild card berths and, also like the AL West, have been awfully democratic about the division crown: five each for the Giants, Dodgers, and Diamondbacks, and four for the Padres.*
*Sorry, Rockies, but you were left out of this one. But you were the first NL Wild Card, and have the most wild card berths in the division with three.
So, who is the winner here? Based on how evenly things are spread with some very good post-season results, I wanted to give this crown to the NL West. I really did. But, even if it is more spread out, they still would have to double their appearances to beat the AL East. I just couldn’t get over the hurdle. That would seem to leave us with the the two Eastern divisions. And, well, I gave the NL East the edge a moment ago, and I’m going to stick with that. There are a few numbers in the AL East’s favor, but those numbers are just simply far too top-heavy for me. The NL East certainly has its flagship in the Braves, but the rest of the division has their moments, far more than the AL East has had until the last couple years.
I don’t know that it means a lot to those fans, but congratulations, National League East. You have officially been crowned the best division in baseball in the Wild Card Era by this blog. I’ll be sure to send along a certificate or something.
Do you remember back when I wrote about trying to get a Prospect League team in Lafayette?
Well, I was serious about that. And now, it's on.
If you go over to the official Lafayette Conductors website, you will see that I have officially launched the IndieGoGo campaign. There is also a Facebook page and a Twitter feed to follow along in our efforts.
As you might be able to see from the picture I've got posted here, I also interviewed with the local TV station to promote the cause.
Please, take a moment to read our stuff. Then, if you would be so kind, throw a few dollars our way and spread the word. Then you can point to this team years later and say "I helped make that happen."
I've been on a bit of an enforced hiatus thanks to a much-heavier-than-my-pay-would-suggest workload lately. Which is fine, thanks to the total implosion of the Pacers and Blackhawks. The less said about the Cubs' plans with Wrigley Field, the better. So, instead, I'm announcing a formal hiatus from the blog so I can focus on another project. With the Indiana Ice (nee Danville Wings) going dormant after a championship season, I want to write the complete history of the franchise. Here is the (unedited) foreword of said project.
If we’re being totally honest here, and I am certainly striving to be that, this book is the result of a little bit of guilt. The best way to explain that, I think, is to tell you how I got into hockey and this team.
Neither of my parents watched any hockey when I was really young. Nobody else I knew in Covington knew or cared anything for hockey. Everything I knew about hockey came from glimpses of it in TV shows and movies. I wish I could say I had more reality based knowledge, but I didn’t have any real choice in the matter. We didn’t have satellite TV until I was in middle school, so no ESPN or anything like that was going to bring hockey into my house. And even if I’d wanted to, the nearest NHL team to us, the Blackhawks, didn’t broadcast their home games anyway. For most of my childhood, hockey was more of a vague idea than something I would really be into.
Something did finally flip a switch for me, and for my brother. Again, I wish I could say it had a more realistic basis, but that would be a lie. No, what opened up the world of hockey to us was video games. We had a game for the Sega Genesis to go along with all our different baseball games, and suddenly the NHL become something more than a theory to us. It was also around that same time DirecTV came into our lives. The glimpses of real hockey were still brief, but they were there, and it was something we could put to our video game hockey. It was enough.
But, as I’m sure anybody can tell you, hockey is a game that is best experienced live. And as luck would have it, the neighboring “big town,” Danville, Illinois, had just gotten a new team. Danville has had hockey off-and-on throughout the life of the Palmer Arena, and that history is probably worth a book of its own. It’s certainly worth a blog post, which I have already written. But, for all the teams Danville had, it was the Danville Wings that really hit the town during my developmental sweet spot, and it was a team that captured Danville’s attention in a way hockey certainly never has since. And maybe not ever before. I couldn’t tell you for sure, I wasn’t really around for the Saints or the original Dashers.
My dad worked in Danville for an awfully long time. One of the nice things about the company he worked for was it supported the community teams well. This meant there were always Danville Dans games to go to, which was the summer collegiate team. When the Wings came to town, that meant there were free hockey tickets, too. My dad doesn’t watch or particularly know anything about hockey now, and certainly didn’t then, either. But he also wasn’t about to pass up free tickets to any sport. So away we went to the games.
It was mesmerizing and opened up my young mind to a whole world I had never really considered before. I don’t know why I never put it together before in my head. I was already a huge fan of and pretty knowledgeable about lower league baseball, between the aforementioned Dans and the Indianapolis Indians, whose games we also went to fairly regularly. But hockey? I didn’t realize there was such a thing, and especially not right in my backyard. If there was going to be lower level hockey, I would have thought you’d have to go to Canada. Or at least Wisconsin. But, no, there were the Wings, battling it out in the NAHL (and later USHL) just ten or fifteen minutes away.
It started out with the free tickets, but eventually we would just go now and then because it was fun. Especially once I got a little older and had my own money (and transportation) to go. But just as I was able to have the freedom to watch hockey more or less whenever I wanted, it was snatched away from me.
Indianapolis came calling, and the pockets there were much deeper than anybody’s in Danville. The Indianapolis Ice, the AAA and later AA team, had moved away. There wasn’t that big of a draw for hockey in Indiana. But, while the city maybe didn’t have the interest for minor league hockey, there was enough of a following for a junior league team. And of all the teams they could have lured away, they targeted Danville’s team. And the team sold and quickly became the Indiana Ice.
I was distraught. The Wings had gone from being one of the top draws in a struggling city that could really use the distraction to being an afterthought in an otherwise professional, major American metropolis. It didn’t sit right with me. It felt wrong, it felt cheap, it felt petty that my hockey team would be moved. I wouldn’t say ripped away from me. I was about to start at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. From there, Indianapolis and Danville were about the same distance away. Still, I had resolved as soon as they moved that the Ice were dead to me. Wings forever!
I stayed committed to Danville hockey for some time. I even went to a few Danville Pounders games. To call that hockey, as my good buddy Nelson Barre can attest to, would be insulting to the game. The final scores of those games typically fell somewhere in the 22-17 range. But still made it to a few of those games. And I still actively refused to attend an Ice game, even though I knew the level of hockey was much better than what I was subjecting myself to in Danville.
Time, though, as it’s said, heals all wounds. The Pounders came and quickly went. I found myself working in Danville for a time, and a new team reprising the old Dashers name came to town about the same time as I was leaving. I said I would make it to a Dashers game. I still haven’t. I did, however, go to an Indiana Ice game with my brother in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Ice lost, but it was undeniably a fun time, and the hockey was much more in line with what you think of when it comes to hockey. He had been to quite a few Ice games by that point, both in the part-time home of Bankers Life, and more in their more comfortable surroundings in the Pepsi Coliseum at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
As it turns out, that was the only Ice game I ever attended, though I had clearly softened my stance at that point. Clearly Danville had moved on. After they had the Pounders, they had the Inferno for a few seasons before they, too, bolted to Indianapolis. The Inferno, incidentally, was pretty good hockey, and Danville drew well even though the team was constantly a bottom feeder. The new Dashers are still kicking. It was time for me to move on, too.
The Ice, however, are no longer with us. The hockey people of Indianapolis have moved on as well. Junior hockey is great, that much is clear. But as I’ve mentioned, Indianapolis is a big city with professional taste. The Ice could no longer hold the city’s attention. Thus the Indy Fuel has been born, playing in the AA-level ECHL. It should be a great fit. The team has poured an awful lot of money into renovating the venerable old Coliseum. There are ready-made rivals in the league already residing in Fort Wayne and Evansville. With professional hockey coming back, there wasn’t room for the Ice any longer. They filed for dormancy starting next season, and it has been granted.
They did not leave the USHL quietly, though. In their final season, they went out as champions. You can’t ask for much more than that. For all their years in Indianapolis, the Ice only missed the playoffs twice, and they captured the Clark Cup twice as well. And I stubbornly and singularly held on to my grudge for virtually all of it.
I feel bad about it, especially now that the team is gone. If I’m going to hold any grudge, I suppose it should be at the Fuel. But I don’t. I’m sure I’ll check out some of those games. It was inevitable, I feel. But in the wild world that is low-level sports, it seems a shame to just let this team pass into history forgotten. If I can do anything to atone for my self-imposed exile, I can at least do this much. From the 12-win Western Michigan Wolves back in 1988 to the Clark Cup Champion Indiana Ice in 2014, this is the complete history of the franchise. I hope you find it every bit as enjoyable and informative reading it as I did researching and writing it.
Look, I don’t think I’m any great NBA writer. I don’t want to give any misguided impressions. I don’t follow the NBA as a whole with any great depth, and I’ve gone out of my way to make sure everybody that reads me knows this. But, I know this Pacer team, and by extension, I know this Heat team.
I have been telling you,* this is the series this Pacer team has been waiting for since last season ended. This team has been carefully constructed specially to counter the Miami Heat. They have been booted from the playoffs the last two years by the Miami Heat in very tough series. The Heat have been the king of the heap for a few years now. I’m not saying the best way to build a team or something everybody is necessarily happy with, but the Pacers are a team (and fanbase) completely obsessed with beating one team: the Miami Heat.
*”You” being anybody who will listen.
Given that, you have to totally throw out basically everything that happened since the All-Star Break. At that point, the Pacers had pretty firmly put themselves in the driver seat for the top seed in the conference, which was the first step in this process of “Beat the Heat.” Once that happened, the team went into cruise control a bit. And, yes, it almost bit them in the ass. If the Heat hadn’t slacked off as well, the Pacers might not be sitting where they wanted to be. But, the fact remains, at the end of the day, the Pacers grabbed home court advantage over the Miami Heat. When the playoffs started, yes, the Hawks are a bad matchup, no doubt. But this team was also sleepwalking through games, acting as if this series was a birthright. Again, it nearly bit them in the ass, facing two elimination games in the first round. Washington went better,* because Washington is built more traditionally. But, still, this was still clearly a team that wasn’t fully engaged yet. But they did enough.
*Again, as predicted here.
And now? The Pacers are right where they wanted to be from the time the clock hit zero in last year’s game seven. Eastern Conference Finals, facing the Miami Heat, and with home court advantage.
And what happened? The Pacers suddenly looked like that driven, locked in team they looked like at the start of the year. And, don’t look now, but they’ve put a few of these games together now. I’ve written it here, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Nobody in the league can grab the Pacers’ attention the way the Heat can. Sometimes to the team’s detriment, to be sure. But when you are actually facing the Heat? Yeah, it works in their favor. It might have been a bit ugly lately, but they got to the point they wanted to be.
I would also like to think that the Heat* showed their true colors before the game. They like to talk a big game about how Heat-Pacers isn’t a rivalry, how they don’t care what happens in Indiana, so on and so forth. But there was LeBron telling his team in front of the all the cameras and however many millions of people watching that game making his big proclamation. “We know what this is about. They don’t like use, we don’t like them,” he said.** “They talked all year about wanting home court. Be careful what you wish for.” That sounds like somebody who cares, right?
*Or at least LeBron, but what’s the meaningful difference there?
**Paraphrasing, but I’m pretty damned close, I’ll bet.
I would believe it a little more if he hadn’t done it for the cameras, though. And if the Heat had played decent. But let’s not mince words here. The Pacers kicked their ass yesterday. Now, nobody is calling for a sweep here.* I don’t think anybody is expecting less than six games, and the overwhelming majority are looking for a seven game series like last year. But Miami looked like a team that didn’t know what hit them. Their defense was atrocious, and the offense wasn’t much better. Dwyane Wade had 27 points, but they sure seemed like the most meaningless 27 points anybody ever had. My wife and I both mentioned how it seemed like Wade did exactly nothing all game, only to find out later that he led all scorers. Yeah, the Heat made some runs late, but the game was decided by then. The Pacers had all the answers whenever they needed them, and had their patented third quarter beatdown that put the game out of reach. Pacer fans really couldn’t have asked for anything better.
*It would be nice, but I don’t expect it.
Now, do I think what LeBron said was all for show? Not at all. I think he spoke honestly and from the heart, while still being fully aware cameras are everywhere. But this also looked like a Heat team that had a relatively easy draw. The Bobcats provided no real resistance, which was expected as soon as Al Jefferson couldn’t go.* Brooklyn had some promise going into their series, given how their regular season meetings had gone. But, no, Brooklyn just looked old, slow, and beaten before they started. Not surprising, given the ex-Celtic core. Expected, but definitely not the kind of challenge that’s going to sharpen your team to prepare for an opponent that has done nothing but target you in particular for two solid years. A team that, honestly, should have beaten you the year before. Much like the Pacers seemed surprised in how Washington came out of the gate swinging in Game 5, the Heat didn’t know how to handle the energy and determination from the Pacers.
*A fitting end to the Bobcats era, really.
So, yeah, the Heat are going to strike back. They might not win game two, but they are going to strike back. It is going to be a tough series, they are not all going to come as easily as yesterday did. But the difference between the Pacers against the Heat and, say, the Wizards against the Pacers? The Pacers have already shown they can hold their own against the team. The Pacers already have two series under their belt that say they can hang with this team. They also have those two years of smoldering resentment that the Wizards didn’t have. And it came in the opening game of the series, not with their back against the wall, down 3-1.
Besides, have you seen this Pacer team with their back against the wall? They know how to respond to that sort of pressure. Of all the issues the Pacers have had, responding to that situation has not been one of them.
Now, let’s hope the Pacers don’t have to worry about that situation. Like I said, a sweep would be nice.