First, let’s take a few brief moments to talk about that Atlanta series, and then we’ll never mention it again.* The bright side is the Pacers survived. Was it pretty? No, but we had a good idea that it wouldn’t be. Atlanta was a matchup problem for Indiana, record be damned. Their bigs don’t play big, which was going to strain everybody. Roy Hibbert, outside of game seven and the end of game six,** was not really a factor in this series, and that was expected.
*That’s probably not true. But is it ever really true when you hear that sentence?
**Did Roy score in game six? No, but watch it again (if you can). He played solid defense towards the end and played a big role in what could have been a pivotal Hawks rally. It wasn’t the sort of thing that shows up on the stat sheet, but it was important.
Now, the reason we have to mention that is it had a pretty direct impact on the beginning stages of this series against the Wizards. To wit: the Pacers played seven very tough games against one of the funkiest teams in the league, at least in terms of style of play. After finally wrapping up a series against a team that clearly demanded all their attention, they had one whole day off before they kicked off the next round against the Wizards. Sure, the Wizards play more conventionally. But look at the context: Washington more or less steamrolled the Bulls in five games. They had almost a full week to rest and prepare for the Pacers, and to watch a team having a good measure of success against them. Given all that, it’s frankly a bit of a miracle that the Pacers pushed the Wizards as hard as they did in game one. That doesn’t excuse Roy not showing up for that game, but I took some heart in that loss given the circumstances.
Those circumstances were out the window last night for game two. And the Pacers came through, though I was honestly more dissatisfied with the team as a whole in the win than I was in the loss. Of course I’m very happy* that the team won. Losing game one is bad enough, but clawing back from dropping the first two games at home would have been devastating. But, let’s stay on the bright side for a bit.
*And very relieved.
Obviously, Roy Hibbert was finally the Roy Hibbert was the we remember from last year’s playoffs. That was something I think the whole nation had been looking forward to. George Hill also had a very nice game offensively, and has pretty well shut John Wall down defensively.* Furthermore, the entire team seemed to suddenly find their defense again, especially in the second half. This team was supposedly built in defense, but you might not have realized it if you hadn’t been paying attention lately. The team’s defensive downfall probably cost Hibbert Defensive Player of the Year.** But last night, the team came to play, and especially when they needed the stops late, they found them, and oftentimes found the stops in the forms of fast break-sparking turnovers.
*A lot of people didn’t think Hill could handle Wall coming into this series. These people clearly did not pay attention to the games these teams played during the regular season, where Hill pretty well kept Wall in check all year. To paraphrase Michael Grady, Wall is quick, whereas Jeff Teague is fast. The difference being Wall needs a head of steam and some room to really get going, whereas Teague is made of lightning no matter what the deal is.
**Which, of course, Roy had a big hand in all that, so please don’t take that as shifting the blame away from Roy.
To segue into the downsides, though, the team desperately needed that sterling defense. Remember, the Pacers only scored 86 points themselves. Hibbert and Hill combined for 42 of those points. Lance Stephenson did end up with twelve points, which isn’t bad. But nearly all of those points came at the end of the game, and it came on 3-for-12 shooting, as opposed to Hill’s 14 points coming on 6-for-12 shooting. The rest of the team was similarly down. Paul George only ended up with eleven. Not bad for your average NBA player, but remember, PG was in serious consideration for MVP before the Pacers spiraled out of control a bit. He carried the team all though the Atlanta series. This was a down game for him.* David West similarly didn’t do much offensively, only finishing with nine.
*I don’t want to be too harsh on Paul, though. As mentioned, he carried the team on both sides of the ball all last series. If anybody “deserves” an off game, it’s him.
Those offensive woes aren’t my biggest issue, though. Even with off games for the typical Pacers scorers, the starters were still responsible for 74 of the team’s 86 points. That pretty well underscores the issue, doesn’t it? The bench only managed twelve points, and it wasn’t as if they didn’t play. CJ Watson saw 18 minutes, Ian Mahinmi saw 14 minutes. Luis Scola played ten minutes, including being the inbounder for that critical stretch at the end. Evan Turner’s spot in the rotation is looking a little tenuous, only clocking eight minutes. It’s almost like they need a true veteran in that spot.* In any case, the bench was a black hole offensively, and didn’t look a lot better defensively, either. It was shades of last year, where the starters had to make sure they so clearly outplayed the other team’s starters that the bench literally could not blow it. It worked last night, just like it generally worked last year. But we have seen over the course of the past few seasons that it’s not a tentable path to the championship.
*Although maybe I shouldn’t be too rough on Turner for this. Danny Granger is only averaging eleven minutes a game for the Clippers in the playoffs.
But, you know, I’m not going to get too worried about it.* There are going to be games like that. The bench, generally speaking, has been pretty good this year. And the strength of this team for the past few seasons is that it is truly a team. The scoring can come from anywhere, and it works. It’s been PG and Lance with a good sprinkling of D-West** over the last series. Last night, it was Roy and Hill. That’s how this team works. As long as the defense stays solid, this team will win this series. And, I mean, Marcin Gortat is not going to continue to shoot this well, right? Or Nene, for that matter?
*Says the author 1,000 words later.
**When he wasn’t in foul trouble.
Here’s the other part of the equation going forward. The Wizards have not been good at home all year, but a strong road team. As it happened, the Wizards won 44 games this year, and they managed to split their wins right down the middle between home and road: 22 each. And, well, that also meant they lost 19 games each, too. To compare, the Pacers were very strong at home and pretty good on the road, which you would expect from a top seed: 35-6 at home, 21-20 on the road. It would sure seem that if any team was poised to drop a few at home, the Wizards would be that team. Sure enough, the one game the Wizards lost last round was at the Verizon Center.
So, sure, I’m guessing a lot of fans were overstating just how good the Pacers looked last night because of how dominant Hibbert was. Which, while Roy was dominant, the Pacers as a whole still have some offensive kinks to work out, and that was hard to ignore last night. That said, I think this team will do just that. PG is obviously not going to linger around ten points a game. Roy Hibbert is likely not going to keep scoring almost thirty, but West will likely pick up that slack. The bench will step up again, Watson and Scola are too good and too veteran not to.
And, well, (finally) getting rid of Andrew Bynum can only mean good things. Right? I’ll tell you this much: if this team does win the championship, I would totally be giving Danny Granger a ring, both for his contributions earlier in the year and over his career. Bynum might just find himself snubbed. It’s not too hard to overlook a guy who only gave you 36 minutes over two games all season.