That was a pretty impressive display from the Pacers yesterday. There was no doubt about that game, the Pacers flat out beat the Knicks. It wasn’t nearly as close as the final score showed as the Pacers just flat outhustled and outplayed New York on both ends of the floor.
Also, do you think there’s a chance we might see a rejuvinated Lance Stephenson? I mean, I was down on him before. I drank the Dakich Kool-Aid. I didn’t think he was going to turn out to be much of anything, between the non-production in his college and pro careers and early trouble right after draft day. But he has stepped up admirably in the absence of Danny Granger. And it sure looked like he wanted to make an especially good impression back in Madison Square Garden for the playoffs. Stephenson has had some good games this year, but I do believe yesterday afternoon was his best showing yet.
All right, enough fan-ism here. Or, well, we’ll tone it down, anyway. Las Vegas had the Knicks as the favorite in this series, and ESPN’s panel of experts averaged out to Knick in 7. I guess I can respect that, though I certainly don’t agree. The ESPN pick, in any case, seems to boil down to a toss up, giving the Knicks a slight edge thanks to home court advantage. And with how the Pacers have looked at times on the road (and especially recently in Atlanta), it’s hard to argue against that before yesterday. There are legitimate reasons to pick against the Pacers, but one of the popular reasons just doesn’t cut it, frankly.
There has been this question about the Pacers all year and even more so* in the playoffs. “Can they score enough?” “The Pacers are not an offensive team.” “The Pacers don’t have enough firepower.” You get the idea. And if you take the season as a whole, maybe you would buy that argument. The Pacers do win on defense, I think everybody connected to the team would say that. But that doesn’t mean they can’t score.
*I struggle a little bit with “more so” vs. “moreso.” I like the one-word variant better, at least in an aesthetic way. But it appears this is an overwhelmingly American usage, and even that is somewhat minor. Not necessarily wrong, but the two-word variant seems much preferred. So I guess I’ll do that way.
The Pacers averaged 94.7 points a game this year, which put them at 23rd in the league. Not too great, sure. But you have to remember that it wasn’t decided that Danny Granger would miss significant time until basically the season started, and it wasn’t until the Pacers had already wrapped up or just about wrapped up the division that he was declared out for the season. That left the team figuring out where points would come from without their leading scorer from the past several seasons. It takes a little bit of time to caress a new system and new offensive identity from something like that. So, if you break the numbers down a little further, you can start to see the team evolve. Taking the numbers from just the second half of the season, and the Pacers jump up to 98.3 points a game, which is good enough for 17th in the league. Those five spots are good enough to jump from bottom third to league average. And when you rate in the top one or two in nearly every defensive category, well, league average looks pretty darned good.
So, to summarize, can the Pacers score points? Yes, they can. And if you take just a second to dig below the thinnest layer of topsoil on these numbers, and you see that the Pacers have been a respectable offensive team for a little while now. Yes, they got off to a slow start. It’s easily handwaved away if you take a moment’s thought. If you want to pick apart the Jekyll-and-Hyde act on home and away numbers, feel free. I don’t understand that one, even though we didn’t see it yesterday. But don’t try to tell me the Pacers aren’t a competent offensive team, especially one that plays the kind of physical, lock-down defense the Pacers do.