In related news, the Pacers are going to give it another go in Atlanta tonight. I don’t know why I feel this way, but I do really, truly believe this is the night the Pacers break their losing streak in Atlanta. For those who don’t know, the Pacers have not beaten the Hawks on their home floor since December of 2006. The Pacers won that one 100-90 and had a winning record at the time. It was a time of great optimism. Little did anybody know it was all about to go sour.
That season was the first in some time that the Pacers had missed the playoffs, coming off a long stretch where the Pacers were a major force in the Eastern Conference and at least in the middle of the attendance rankings.* Then, well, the brawl and the fallout from that was just truly coming home to roost in that season.
*The Pacers don’t play in an especially big arena. There are only four arenas smaller than the Fieldhouse in the NBA, so even when every game is sold out, it seems the best the Pacers can hope for is about tenth. I don’t imagine this was any better in Market Square Arena.
The stink of the brawl really only just started coming off a couple years ago. There were signs of a turnaround I would say four or five years ago. Not so much in attendance, but there was starting to be a little more media buzz. There were starting to be stories and phone calls by the general population asking “Why aren’t the Pacers good again?” But, I think if we were to officially put an end date on the “Post-Brawl” era, it would be the 2010-11 season, when they finally broke through to the playoffs again.
There was a sense almost of the city rediscovering the team as the playoffs came closer and a sense that some of the investments Larry Bird had made were starting to come around. The team still finished with a losing record that year, but they were still good enough to sneak into the last spot in the playoffs.
It was a bit of a shame the Bulls were the top seed. Bulls fans are notoriously thick in the Fieldhouse for any game. I went to that first home playoff game, and I was worried. Fans were just starting to take notice in the team again, and the presale limited to Indiana residents wouldn’t be quite as effective with Chicago as it would be with, say, the Heat or Celtics. Or anybody, really. It had to be the Bulls. Still, the Pacers had pushed the Bulls harder than anybody expected in the first two games, and honestly, probably should have won both those games in the United Center. As Andrew and I took our seats, we pretty quickly found a lot of Bulls fans around us, but we weren’t entirely surrounded. And I was relieved to hear the crowd noise seemed to favor the Blue & Gold. And while the Bulls won that one, too,* three relatively impressive performances had seemingly reenergized the city.
*They didn’t clinch it until Danny Granger missed a good look at at buzzer three. Chicago fans were whooping it up like they had just won the championship. Andrew and I both had the same thought: if you’re having so much trouble with the losing-record 8th seed, how are you going to deal with the big boys in the playoffs? Miami would later soundly beat the Bulls 4-1.
This carried over to last season, which has been heavily documented here, culminating in a simultaneously disappointing and heartening series against the Heat. The Pacers started being all sorts of teams on their home courts for the first time since the brawl. The (Big Three) Heat, the Lakers, etc. But one domino refused to fall. The damned Atlanta Hawks.
How? I don’t know. The Hawks are notorious for having uncaring fans in any sports. But, at least the Braves and Falcons make some noise nationally. The Hawks are always just sort of there. Not awful, they have the longest active playoff streak in the East. But never great, either. They always bow out in the first or second round. I’m sure there’s a reason their series are always on NBA TV rather than TNT or ABC. Pacer fans can relate with this new resurgence.*
*But at least the Pacers can say this is because they’ve just recently reappeared on the national stage. The Hawks got to NBA TV level and just stayed there.
But, there are signs that this is about to change. I swear there are. I thought this before the last two games in Atlanta, but I think there are still valid reasons. For one, the Pacers absolutely dominated the Hawks in all the playoff games in Indy. The scores have all been closer than they felt, and none of them were particularly close. The Hawks seem to be unraveling, racking up technical fouls and typically letting the Pacers shoot two or three times more free throws in each game. Lastly, there was game four.
Game four saw the Pacers play one of the worst quarters ever in the 2nd quarter. They went from a 7-point first quarter lead to what quickly ballooned to a 19-point 2nd quarter deficit. That was cut to 17 points thanks to a lucky tip-in at the halftime buzzer, but it was little consolation. It looked to be another lost cause in ATL.
Then the third quarter came, and it seemed the Pacers had new life. They played hard, started hitting some shots, and generally looking like the Pacers again. True, they never came all the way back, but they did at one point have it down to a 4 point game before running out of gas. They ended up 11 points back, but that was the one game that felt much closer than the score showed, just because of that second half.
I keep telling myself, that is why the Pacers will do this tonight. They’ll take these home games and that second half and finally put it all together and put this horrible losing streak out of their minds. Another tick off the list of being fully back.