*Just for the curious, that would seem to be the proper grammar for the term. There’s an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary and everything.
**Of course, even Nostradamus had his off-days.
I will admit, some doubt crept in, and it was because of what I was hearing from national guys. Granted, I should know better than that. National guys have not been watching this team as closely as most fans have, and certainly not as much as the local broadcasters. Still, there are certain people who know basketball pretty well. Charles Barkley obviously knows a thing or two about basketball. Bill Simmons published 750 pages worth of basketball history and observation, and I’m sure has written at least that many that has never been seen by the public. He knows something about basketball. They both, along with many others, were really straining themselves to jump firmly onto the Wizards bandwagon after Washington took game one.
Did I believe it? Not for a second, but I did doubt how strong my conviction was. Was I vastly overestimating how good this Pacer team was because I am a fan, and a fan that thinks a lot about this team? Was I took quick to discount the slump at the end of the season and how hard the struggle was against the Hawks? Was I being too quick to discount what the Wizards brought to the table?
If the last three games have anything to say about it, no, not at all. I knew what I was talking about, and I do know something more about this team from watching very nearly every single minute they’ve played this year as compared to national guys that are paid to try to watch every single team out there. I am sure all these analysts have put a lot of time into their jobs, and I don’t mean to totally discount them. But there is a reason why beat writers are still your best bet when it comes to a particular team. The national guys’ knowledge is wide, but shallow. It just isn’t humanly possible for it to be any other way. Now, the local broadcasters’ knowledge is wider than mine, but to generalize, I think it’s pretty similar. My NBA knowledge might be pretty narrow, but it is incredibly deep. Like I said, I have not missed many Pacer games this year, and I keep my ear pretty close to the ground when it comes to this team. And, with God as my witness, I was right!
I have told everyone who would listen to me or read my screed. This team is just simply better than the Wizards. Very nearly everything about the Atlanta series needs to be thrown out of the window. That was a different animal for many reasons. As I’ve written and written and written and said and said and said, the Atlanta Hawks were the absolute worst team for the Pacers to draw in the first round, especially given the boredom we saw out of the Pacers at the end of the season. The Hawks play like no other team in the NBA with all the three pointers they jack up. Nobody really plays in the post for them. This Pacer team for the past few years has been built to play and win a certain way: the big guys lock it down around the rim, and guards funnel you towards the bigs. This team is pretty uniformly huge at every position. They are going to outsize, outlength, and outmuscle you. Roy Hibbert especially is the anchor that makes this defense work. It’s much like Syracuse’s zone. You just are not going to consistently score inside the three point line. Usually this teams that teams are forcing up jumpers, and long jumpers, that don’t typically have a good chance at going in, which has made the Pacers’ three point defense look artificially great. It’s good, but it’s not as good as the numbers would have you believe.
How do I know this? Because they suffer against teams that legitimately thrive on the three. And Atlanta was absolutely that team. They were able to get points at will at points because they couldn’t really be bothered to even test the teeth of the Pacer defense. They just shot over it and shot over it and shot over it again. When those shots fell, they made the Pacers look bad. When they didn’t, the Pacers won the games. Thankfully, as these sorts of teams usually find, the shots didn’t fall quite often enough, and the Pacers survived.
With that series done, it was understandable the Pacers wouldn’t totally be there to start this series against the Wizards. First was just the grind. The Pacers merely survived the Hawks series. It took a lot out of this team, and that should have been obvious to everybody. The Wizards, on the other hand, did not have a particularly taxing series against the Bulls for one, and then got to follow that up with almost a full week of rest and preparation. Of course the Wizards won that first game, that was going to happen no matter where that game was played. But, you know what? It was only a six point game, and the Pacers really made Washington sweat it out at the end. I already thought the Pacers would make relatively swift work of the Wizards, but when I saw the end of that game, I started mentally preparing for the next round in my head, because I knew this one was over.
And you know what happened? The Wizards played much more conventionally, and Roy Hibbert magically found his groove again. The defense magically found its groove again. And with those things in place, the offense has a whole magically found it’s groove again.* This team looks suspiciously like the team that started the year again. And what did I say about this Wizards team? If you recall, I told you all “They are not good at home. The Pacers did just fine on the road.” And what happened? Tell me again, what happened? The Pacers just went out to DC and took both games, and firmly grabbed the Wizards (and this series) by the balls. No big deal.
*For the starters, anyway. The bench was simply atrocious last night. The bench only saw a few minutes last night, and in that short time, they managed to get the Pacers down almost twenty points. But the starters are so much better, they were able to not only erase that deficit, but also climb out of an eight point (or so, going off memory here) fourth quarter deficit that a short bench spell had put them in there, too.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. The Wizards have a lot of veteran role players, there is still playoff experience there, the Pacers haven’t looked good in a while, come up with all the excuses you want. But, the Washington stars are not experienced, and neither are guys you really want to count on taking jump shots. John Wall in particular.* This Pacer team is battle tested. Another little aside, maybe, but a bone I have to pick with Simmons again. If you watched the Bad Boys 30 for 30, you might have also watched the aftershow where Simmons and Jalen Rose had a talk with Isiah Thomas. During that interview, Simmons mentioned that the Pacers hadn’t really dealt with any adversity to build off of the way the Pistons did dealing with Celtics and Lakers. That could not be further than the truth.
*Another note: I (and others in the Indy market) have railed on the point that George Hill would have no problem guarding John Wall, because he hadn’t had an issue guarding him all year. The national guys are scratching their heads trying to figure this out. It’s not that hard, just watch the tape. John Wall’s speed is a different kind of quick than Jeff Teague, and it’s one that Hill can handle.
Really, that comment showed a level of ignorance that should be embarrassing for somebody with Simmons’ pedigree. Since this core has been together, look at what they’ve done. The pick up started a few years ago when the Pacers broke into the playoffs against the Bulls. Go back and look at those games again if you can. That was a 1-8 matchup, and the Pacers were that sub-.500 team that snuck into the playoffs. But, the Pacers showed what was coming. They gave the Bulls one of the toughest five game series you will ever see. Adversity, lessons learned. The Pacers came into the next year much improved, but the national media still hadn’t quite kept up. They got past Orlando with not too much trouble, but nobody nationally gave the Pacers a shot against the juggernaut that was Miami. It was a six game series, but again, the Pacers made the Heat really sweat it out. Indiana got their attention, certainly. Still, the Heat prevailed. Adversity, lessons learned. Last year, the Pacers finally got some dap, and they pretty well cruised into the playoffs. Even so, they still found themselves the national underdogs against the Knicks in the second round. The Pacers won that round in six games that didn’t feel particularly close, leading to another round against the Heat. A form of adversity, lessons learned. We all remember last year’s series against the Heat pretty well. Adversity, lesson learned.
You want to tell me again that this Pacer team hasn’t had the chance to learn what they need to if they want to take that next step and beat the Heat? Because it’s just not true. The Pacers made a lot of noise about getting that top seed so they would have home court advantage against Miami. Guess what? Even with the scuffling down the stretch, mission accomplished. Look at the games this year against the Heat. The home team always won.
If you want to take a look at the surface and write the Pacers’ obituary, go right ahead. Don’t let me stop you. But take it from somebody who has sunk an awful lot of time into this team: yeah, they hit a rough stretch. There are still some issues to iron out. But this team is still absolutely capable to win this whole thing. I told you how this series would go, and to this point, it’s gone absolutely to form. And this team was 100% built to be able to beat the Heat. I’ve been frustrated with this team, I’ve been upset with this team. But I wrote it here and I’ve said it elsewhere. If they got past Atlanta, the Wizards matchup would heal a lot of wounds. I wonder what the national guys are saying about this team now?