So, apparently the Pacers are only going to show up to play against other playoff teams. That’s terrible, but hopefully they can find that switch come playoff time. I’ve got a bad feeling this season is headed towards a surprisingly quick end, though. The Blackhawks have been slumping headed into these last few games, too. Is the sky falling?
NO! Because it’s baseball season! As I write this, the Cubs and Pirates are about ten minutes away from first pitch.* It’s a wonderful time of year, especially so this year. As has been true for most of the country, it’s been a long, hard winter. Had you heard of a polar vortex before this year? I sure hadn’t, but I won’t soon forget it. There is very little in the world right now that could possibly be more pleasing than the impossibly green grass of a baseball cathedral contrasted against a deep blue sky with big, cottony puffs of clouds and the sun gently warming the world out of the deep thaw of this winter. I simply can’t comprehend looking at a picture like this and not immediately feeling all warm and fuzzy. It’s just impossible. And the time is finally here.
*The game will likely be over or close to it by the time this gets posted, but I won’t know any better. It’ll be waiting for me on my DVR. A major downside of day jobs: no live afternoon baseball.
In honor of this,* I was going to come up with my All Boozing Team, inspired by Shin-Soo Choo and his incident a few years ago. It’ll be great, I thought. As a sign famously once read, Babe Ruth did it on beer and hot dogs. Mickey Mantle famously lost years off his career (and life, really) because of his hard drinking, hard partying lifestyle. Patrick insisted Ty Cobb was enough of an alcholic to make any drinking list. More recently, there was Yovani Gallardo getting even more rip-roaringly drunk than Choo and trying to drive. Long story short, I didn’t really come up with a line up, but it wasn’t for a lack of candidates.
*And a Facebook conversation with my best lawyer friend, Patrick.
No, all things more carefully considered, I really did not realize just how sad drinking culture was around baseball. A quick Google search turns out story after story about guys who threw careers and lives away over drinking, and most of baseball just turns it into a laughing matter. From Mantle himself: “Mantle spoke with great remorse of his drinking in a 1994 Sports Illustrated cover story. He said that he was telling the same old stories, and realizing how many of them involved himself and others being drunk – including at least one drunk-driving accident – he decided they were not funny anymore. He admitted he had often been cruel and hurtful to family, friends, and fans because of his alcoholism, and sought to make amends.”
Look, it’s definitely not news that baseball and alcohol have a close and inseparable history. There is at least one very interesting looking* book dedicated to the subject about how breweries and baseball grew up together. It’s also no secret that baseball has had some drug problems throughout its history. From the greenies of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, cocaine in every damn sport in the 80’s, the steroids of the ‘90’s, there isn’t really any era of the game that can be totally considered clean.
*I can’t say I read it, but I did see it at my local Barnes & Noble while looking for Christmas presents for others. I very nearly bought it for either my brother or dad. Or myself.
All those things mentioned in that last bit, though? Those aren’t joking matters. Those were all taken very seriously more or less from the git. After doing some research for my initial idea, frankly, I didn’t have the heart to go through with it. Too many sad, sad stories in a culture that really seems like it needs some cleansing. Maybe it will never happen. Beer and baseball have always gone together. There’s a reason you don’t hear about beer league basketball or football. You don’t hear about nearly as many football stadiums named for breweries. Off the top of my head, you have Busch Stadium, Miller Park, and Coors Field in baseball. I can’t think of a single instance of a brewery naming (or owning) any teams in any other major professional sport.
Maybe some things are changing. It wasn’t long ago there was a bit of an uproar that most teams were taking alcohol out of their clubhouses. I was one of those that thought it was a silly move. I laughed right along with the rest of the sporting world about the “chicken and beer” Red Sox. But, you know, after reading quite a few passionate pleas from former All Stars, consider me a convert. Of course it’s fun to snicker at Tony LaRussa falling asleep at a red light at first, but it gets depressing quick when looking at the bigger picture.
Does that mean that I’m going to stop having beer at the ballpark? No, of course not. I’ll still drink when I watch games at home. But I can do it with some control, and I’m not one of the guys out there actually trying to play the game. I would like to be, sure. I tried to be one of those guys. I couldn’t hit well enough. But when we hear the wild exploits of ballplayers, well, I’m probably going to be looking at those stories a little differently now.
I’m sure somebody out there can put together a great All Buzzed Team. I’m sure with some time I could do it. But I no longer wish to do it. I know I’m not going to make an impact in changing the culture, but for whatever little piece it’s worth, I won’t contribute to it.
I will, however, continue to watch Bull Durham, even with the scene where they take the six pack to the stadium at night to get a rain out. To be perfectly fair, though, I never really cared for that scene even before taking a closer look at drinking in the game.
Last night was intense. It came through on the broadcast. Michael Grady kept talking about it. Friends on Facebook who were at the game kept posting about it. I’m told there was a fight in the stands towards the end of the game. There was a little bit of a dust up on the floor, along with all the monitoring of flagrant fouls. Intense. Can the world handle seven games of this in a couple months? I guess we’ll find out.
Speaking of the intensity, these are the sorts of games Lance Stephenson shines in. He came into the national consciousness from getting a little too into the first Pacers-Heat series, but that was just a footnote. When he got a chance to get on the floor, he turned out to be the best X factor the Pacers have had in some time, especially when he knows he can grab the spotlight. Last night was no exception. He started out on fire from outside, made big plays slashing to the basket later on. The downside of somebody that plays that emotionally? Well, we saw that when he got himself kicked out of the game.
Let’s get this out of the way first: I don’t think that second technical should have been called, especially in light of how LeBron’s taunting went overlooked. That was far too weak a call in such a monster of a game. But, you know, that’s one of those times where you just cannot put yourself in that situation to start with. Especially when you’re already running around with a technical to your name from the first scuffle. Which I really didn’t have a problem with either way, honestly. If they just let it all go with some stern looks and warnings, I would have been fine with that. The double technical was fine, too. But once that decision was made, Lance just simply has to know that he just doesn’t have the luxury of getting to that level.
I’m dying to know what Lance actually said to Dwyane Wade. I’m sure I’ll never actually find out, but I would hope he got his money’s worth. I would also hope that Lance realizes he’s now a technical away from a one game suspension. I don’t know exactly how that works. Something I should probably look up. But I’m hoping it’s not another suspension for each technical foul after the next one. That could be deadly for the Pacers moving forward.
I’ve seen multiple people either on Twitter or on TV talk about how this could be the wake up call that finally gets Lance to mature a little bit out on the floor. Not so much with his game, but with the antics. Which, I mean, that’s fine to hope that. I hope that, too. But I’m not optimistic. I feel like we’ve been here before with Lance. Pacer fans and coaches are like the poor, abused wife with an alcoholic husband. Sure, they have all the reasons in the world to get sober and they keep promising this is it. They’ll change, they’ll change, the thinking goes. And it never happens. What’s the line on Modern Family? You can change somebody about 15%. I don’t think that’s enough flexibility to get Lance to ratchet down a notch.
All that aside, though, you can’t be anything but pleased with everything else the Pacers did last night. They generally played well, outplaying the Heat for all but the third quarter and a little change. They executed the game plan that most teams try with the Heat almost to a T: do your best on LeBron, but make sure he gets no help. And, true to form, LeBron was pretty well a one man team out there. And at one point had ten of his twenty points at the free throw line. I don’t know that you can ever really keep LeBron away from the free throw line. He plays too physical* and gets too many friendly whistles. But if you can clean up on that a bit, this isn’t even a game.
*Which he should. The man is a beast in pretty well every sense of the word.
Going forward, does this game really mean anything? Not any more than any other regular season win. Which, granted, at this point in the season and the goals the Pacers have very publicly stated, regular season wins are awfully nice. You’re still in a tight race for that top spot in the East, every win matters. Especially over the team that is right on your tail. But it’s not like the Pacers are going to be able to point to last night’s game, or the game in the Fieldhouse back in December, and get credit for it in the playoffs. Is it nice to be able to get home court advantage* and point out that Miami never won in Indiana, but that in no way means that Miami can’t steal a game or two in the playoffs. The same is true if the Pacers manage to win the last game in Miami. Sure, it’s nice to get a win on the rival’s home floor, but you don’t get credit for that in the summer. You just have to do it again.
*Assuming that does actually happen. Even with the win last night, there is certainly no guarantee of that happening. Again, just one game out of 82. The only thing it clinched was the division, which, frankly, was never really a competition, even with a healthy Derrick Rose.
What is nice to see is that the Pacers do still have that extra gear. The bench, though I wouldn’t say filled me with confidence, did enough to hold serve. Evan Turner, as much as I derided him through most of last night’s game, came up very big when Lance was tossed. And Luis Scola is not going to be this cold shooting forever. It just can’t happen. CJ Watson, I’m assuming, is going to come back. If he is in any form like he was earlier in the season, that is going to be a huge lift both for the bench and for the starters. George Hill is a hell of a player, but I’m not sure if you want him playing the kind of heavy minutes he’s been forced into since that injury. Honestly, I’m not sure if you want any player at all to play the kind of heavy minutes he’s been forced into. I absolutely believe that played a huge role in Hill missing those two free throws at the end of the game. The dude was just tired, as he has every right to be. For the past, I dunno, ten plus games anyway, the Pacers don’t really have a back up point guard. Donald Sloan is a nice spare tire to get you through the first half, but I don’t think anybody trusts him in the second half of games like last night. We need CJ, and we need him badly. I normally want George Hill on the line in that sort of situation like last night, but I would like him better if he hadn’t been putting so many miles on those legs in the second half of games.
As thrilled as I am with the win last night, though, I will say there is a level of frustration. I know every team goes through it’s ups and downs and simply slogging through the grind is going to happen. But, damn, if the Pacers had played with half of that intensity through the last month or so, they probably would already have the conference wrapped up. Oh well. Nothing to be done about that. All there is to worry about now is that the Pacers seem to have finally found that playoff switch, and it could not have come at a better time.
Do I have to say this game is a big deal? This game is a big deal. Top two teams in the East. Until recently the two teams most experts would have picked for your NBA championship favorites. These teams haven't played _since very early on in the season, but those two games delivered on the hype and then some. Both teams are still solidly amongst the top teams in the league, despite slipping lately. ESPN moved their set to the Fieldhouse for the day and is carrying the game. Last time that happened for a regular season NBA game? Oh, just Pacers vs. Heat earlier in the year. These are simply THE two teams most people want to see.
As somebody who has grown up with the Pacers and this area for his entire life, let me tell you, the buzz for this team is easily the loudest it's been since the Reggie Miller vs. the Knicks days. And, with every college in the state of Indiana seemingly in a downturn, the buzz for the professional team is probably at a fevered pitch never seen before. Yeah, football has made serious inroads in Indiana (and everywhere else, for that matter), but this is still Indiana, the land of Milan and The Big O and Larry Legend and so on and so forth. As the slogan goes, in 49 states, it's basketball, but this is Indiana.
Am I worried? Oh, goodness, yes. The Pacers have frankly not looked at all as of late. There is reason for concern. But we've certainly seen teams in every sport do this. There's no reason to think the season is over just yet or this team is going to roll over in a spot like this against the team that has been their foil the past few seasons.
The game is on ESPN, and I'm sure even around here, that telecast will get the vast majority of eyeballs. But I'm loyal to a fault. I'll be watching on Fox Sports Indiana like always. I can't say I care much for Quinn Buckner behind the mic, but Chris Denari is the best in the business. I thought that before I even knew he is a Wally. Here we go!
12:00 - The Fieldhouse is packed and amped as you would expect. When you talk about playoff atmosphere, this is what you talk about. Hell, most playoff games don't even have this sort of tension and electricity. Also, on the Heat side of things, it is nice to see Greg Oden get to start back in Indianapolis. I honestly never thought he'd play again, but there he is.
11:00 - The Heat bandwagon fans might be the worst in the history of sports fans. Really, people? That's the bandwagon you want to jump on? One of the most universally-agreed upon sports heels in recent memory? Whatever floats your boat, I suppose.
8:52 - I like the ball movement, though I was a bit worried when Lance passed up an open three. I felt better when an even more open PG was in the corner.
7:33 - It's pretty clear that Greg Oden has had the effect Miami wanted, opening up the lane on offense and giving the Pacers something to think about when they drive in. Two quick fouls might be just what the doctor ordered for that, though.
6:56 - Oden or no, it's just amazing how much better and engaged Roy Hibbert looks against the Heat. All in his head? Maybe. But it's real. He just has a confidence against this team you don't see from night to night.
6:10 - That Wade pass looked bad even by Bad Lance standards. Followed by a nice Hibbert move, which fores a Heat time out. 14-8 Pacers. Can we just call the game now?
5:32 - Speaking of Bad Lance, that pass ahead was awfully forced. To say the least.
4:36 - Air ball by Wade. He seems to be good for one or two of those a game. At least against the Pacers.
3:43 - That's one hell of a shot. It's also a hell of an ugly possession, but I won't complain too much about those three points. And a shot clock violation on the other end coming off of (arguably) a LeBron flop. Pretty sweet sequence.
2:07 - Inadvertent whistle? What the hell was that? That was two free fast break points. What can you do but shake your head, though.
1:06 - They're calling that a shooting foul? Hmm . . . the conspiracy theorist in me has no problem reading through these two calls. Also, still no CJ Watson. That injury has me worried. Donald Sloan is fine, but definitely a spare tire as a number two option. We will badly need Watson in games like this come April.
0:00 - A little sloppy at the end, but I will take that quarter, no doubt. 23-17 Pacers, and looking much more like the Pacer team that started the year as opposed to the Pacer team of the past couple weeks.
11:32 - Bench is in, and the offense instantly goes to crap. I'm getting awful flashbacks of the last two years when the starters would kick the Heat around, only to watch the bench totally blow it. Watson and Granger would be awfully nice.
10:34 - The bench scores, kind of. Lance hits a three. He can't do it by himself. Well, actually, he probably could. He would certainly try. I'd rather he didn't, though.
9:16 - Now that looked pretty nice. Nifty pass from Evan Turner to Ian Mahinmi. Followed by an iffy foul on Mahinmi when Birdman couldn't complete the alley oop. Replay shows it pretty damn clean, too. I'll have a tin foil hat made by the end of this game, I'm sure.
8:18 - Sure, it was another ill-advised pass, but I'll count that as another Wade air ball.
7:56 - Another bail out three, this time by Lance. I'll take it!
7:24 - The bench is driving me crazy, but I just realized the Pacers are still up nine, so they've held serve. That's all you can really ask for, really. Well, that and some fouls on LeBron, which just happened as well, coincidentally.
6:35 - Another pretty awful call in the Heat's favor. Funny how the Heat always seem to get the favorable whistles, no matter who they play.
5:12 - Wow, that whole sequence was just terrible, Pacers just throwing the ball all over. But they managed to trade buckets, so no real harm done. And then follow up it up with a PG steal and Lance three. I guess if those are the sorts of numbers your mistakes turn into, you don't have much to complain about.
3:34 - Roy makes a little hook type shot and couldn't help but smile about it running back on defense. There's still a long way to go, obviously, but things are just kind of going that way for the Pacers tonight. With the exceptions of the whistles, but that's to be expected.
2:25 - SO MANY FOULS. Miami is cutting into the lead, now at four, almost exclusively because of free throws. It's infuriating.
1:45 - And a slop three by Bosh to cut it to one, 40-39 Pacers. Frustrating? Of course, but I don't think anybody really thought the Pacers were going to lead this thing by ten or so the whole game. Weather the storm, it'll be okay.
1:15 - Tough call on George Hill on a potential jump ball with LeBron there, but probably the right one. See, I have no problem admitting when the Pacers do wrong, I promise.
43-42 Heat at the half. Am I bummed the Pacers couldn't hold onto the lead? Of course. But, I'm not all that worried about it. In the first game against the Heat this season, the Pacers were down 11 or something like that and were generally outplayed and out of sorts the whole half. They came back and won that one by six and felt like more. This game? One point is nothing, and the Pacers have generally outplayed the Heat pretty decisively. I'm still feeling good about this one at this point. I'm also feeling good about the frisbee dogs at halftime. Then again, if you can't get behind frisbee dogs, you might as well join Al-Qaeda.
10:30 - Hey, the Pacers got a whistle! How about that! And the PG free throws give us the lead back. And, yes, it took this long into the quarter for either team to score.
8:47 - Offensive foul on LeBron? Maybe reviewing the tape at halftime got into the refs heads. Michael Grady specifically said the officials wanted to know when the Mahinmni foul was, and I know they couldn't have been happy with that call.
6:59 - Roy Hibbert steal! How about that!
6:51 - A little scuffle there. Did I mention these teams really don't like each other, and haven't since the first playoff series? Well, these teams really don't like each other, and haven't since the first playoff series. No fouls or anything called after the "fight." Which is just as well, there really wasn't much there. Just a little jostling and jawing. I'm sure the Heat are fine with that, too, because I would never want to fight a team with David West on it. Ever, in anything.
6:25 - Offensive foul on Chris Bosh! What is going on here? I had written off getting any calls this game, and now they're coming in droves!
5:58 - Correction: Twitter tells me a double technical was called on Lance and Wade for the scuffle. That's basically nothing doing for it.
5:29 - LeBron gets a chance at a three point on a touch foul (missed the free throw) and taunts about it. No call on LeBron. To start the play, somebody, I think PG, was basically getting tackled under the basket so he couldn't grab the rebound. No call there, either. This is feeling more familiar.
3:36 - George Hill plays through the foul, drives in, and kicks out to an open PG who nails the three. That, my friends, is the purest basketball you will ever see. LeBron hit a fadeaway three on the other end to nullify the points, but it was still a hell of a play.
2:07 - Evan Turner comes into the game, and a pass to him immediately turns into a Miami fast break. Coincidence?
1:00 - This is a terrible time for the Heat to get hot. And Turner gets blocked. So glad we traded for this bum.
40.1 - If that's a flagrant foul, then the one where Wade bear hugged somebody earlier (maybe Roy?) should have been, too. And there's the downgrade. Thank you. Also mentioned was that Roy does not have a field goal this quarter. Haslem seems to be the only kryptonite the Heat have for Hibbert. Do you trust that to win four out of seven?
0:00 - Down five after three. A little more concerned, but not panicking yet. I just want to know where this team has been against all these crap teams when we could have been putting the conference away.
10:07 - Pacers have started this quarter a little better. But this is where you have to be the defensive team you claim you are. So far so good, I suppose.
9:35 - There was a nice PG dunk a little bit ago, but that one was with LeBron on his back It probably would have been a foul had it been the other way. Pretty impressive. Also cuts the Miami lead to one, 70-69. Heat time out. Come guys, just win this quarter from here.
9:35 - Coming out of the time out, you notice the Georges (Paul and Hill) are not coming out of the game. I don't expect that to happen for the rest of the night, either.
9:14 - Scola takes a good foul. And now they're going to look at that as flagrant? Oh my God. Come on. I did not realize LeBron was made of ancient porcelain. And now it's downgraded. Seriously, guys. That makes two flagrant fouls that were downgraded tonight. How is LeBron not paying a flopping fine after this game?
8:56 - Luis Scola has lost all ability to shoot over the last month or so. That is very concerning going forward. The bench already struggles enough to score, they have to have that midrange jumper out of Scola.
8:47 - Can we get a flagrant offensive foul, please? I'm not entirely joking here.
8:47 - Out of the time out, indeed, it is a flagrant foul. I would imagine all the blood streaming out of Roy's mouth helped with that.
8:32 - And LeBron immediately goes back to getting the benefit of the doubt. Basketball is funny sometimes.
7:24 - Open PG three for the lead. . .and it's out. Damn. At least Roy is headed back to the bench.
6:58 - PG grabbed at the legs as he goes up for a dunk to tie. Let's go to the monitor to see if it's flagrant! (That was joking, I promise.) He hits both free throws to tie it.
6:17 - George Hill has a wide open corner three rim out, but the Heat can't get the rebound. This is intense, folks.
6:04 - There we go Lance! There's the lead!
5:01 - Yes, Lance! You don't always know what to expect out of him, but he generally shines in big spots like these. And . . . what? A technical? For what? That's it for him, though, because of the technical he had earlier with Wade. On replay, it looks like he said something to Wade. That's all I can tell. Damn, that just sucks. That is a huge blow for the Pacers. It sure seems like a weaksauce call.
4:46 - LeBron hits a three, which ties the game. Weak, weak, weak. I hope Lance really said something good.
4:03 - Refs miss a goaltending call. Miami takes it to the other end for a three point play. Missed the free throw, thankfully, but what just happened?
2:44 - Verticality, bitch.
2:00 - Hey, Evan Turner did something good! And Wade is hurting. Two good things?
2:00 - During the time out to get Wade out of the game, Michael Grady informed everybody via Twitter that a fight broke out in the stands. In section one, even, the expensive seats. Is there any question this is the best rivalry in basketball today?
1:47 - Chalmers dribbles into a completely stationary David West and goes right out of bounds. Pacer ball. Don't know what Chalmers was thinking.
1:30 - And Turner gives us the lead! I'm sorry for everything I said earlier! (Although I still miss Danny.)
50.2 - David West for three out of a time out! OH MY GOD! WHAT IS HAPPENING! WAS THAT DESIGNED? WHAT IS HAPPENING?
2.9 - Bosh hits a three to make it a one point game again. 84-83. But, yeah, only 2.9 seconds left. My mind is still just blown over the D-West three. I'm just shaking my head and smiling. Basketball is funny sometimes.
2.3 - George Hill goes to the line, misses the first. Crap. Misses the second. Oh no. Oh no. Miami rebound and time out. Why did I let myself think this game was iced?
0:00 - Bosh's shot is short! Pacers win! Pacers win! Pacers win!
Not tonight! Pacers win! We'll break it down tomorrow, let's just enjoy tonight!
David West for three. Wow. Not in my wildest dreams.
So, well, last night pretty well confirmed all my fears about the Pacers. Not to say they can’t turn it around, but Good Lord, that was awful. The defense didn’t look bad. They only gave up 89 points, which would win them most games. But only scoring 77? That’s flat terrible. And does not pair up nicely with a 71 point effort against Memphis.* It’s worse than just poor shooting. Which certainly happened, don’t get me wrong. The Pacers shot 37% last night, well below the league average** of 50%. But, even more hurtful than that is the truly poor basketball IQ.
*Where, again, they only gave up 82. I know this is a defensive minded team, but nobody can afford to be this one dimensional.
**The Pacers generally shoot right around average, at 49.2%, if you’re curious. It should also be pointed out that, last season, many stat heads would say if the Pacers could just struggle up to league average offense, their defense was more than good enough to make them one of (if not the) top teams in the league. And, well, here we are. Right at league average, and the Pacers are 51-20 and still clinging to the top spot in the East. Just to put my fears in perspective. I’m not necessarily happy, but I fully understand this is still a very, very good team.
Maybe you don’t want to hear that from me. That’s fine. I stopped playing basketball after eighth grade and resigned to being a lowly manager through high school. I’m certainly no basketball savant. But I am from Indiana. I’ve watched basketball since practically the womb, as most from this state have.* I’ve spent countless hours playing in driveways and parks and the like. I’ve been a good student of the game and the great basketball people I have had the good fortune to be around.** I think I know basketball pretty well, but I would certainly hope an NBA player knows the game better than I do and would generally make better decisions than I would. But, after watching last night, I am not so sure.
*This is true for baseball, too, but as I’ve written here, that’s more of a family trait than a geographical one.
**If you’d like to skip this aside, please, by all means. But I just wanted to put a little shout out here for the people who have personally helped expand my understanding of the game: obviously my parents first and foremost. Various uncles were also helpful, but a special mention would go to my cousin John, who is probably the most successful basketball player in the family. He played on probably the best Covington teams I ever watched, and I was part of the Final Four team as a manager. I have my picture on the wall in the gym and everything. He probably should have played basketball somewhere in college, but was robbed of the chance by a truly unfortunate knee injury his senior year. I probably should thank my middle school coaches, but the small town nature of the Covington basketball program meant I didn’t necessarily get the necessary time from most of my coaches to develop properly. Not that I blame them, but it’s the truth. I would give credit to Mike Gasaway, though. He coached me in eighth grade and then got the high school coaching job my freshman year. I definitely got to see his practices up close and personal. I understand he is an AD now rather than coaching, and I think that’s a shame. Given the right opportunity, I really think he could have made some serious noise as a coach. And, although I didn’t spend nearly as much time around him, I would also single out Mac Petty, the long time Wabash coach. One hour (maybe two, I don’t remember for sure) interviewing him on my short-lived sports talk radio show was one of the most enlightening things I ever did as far as plumbing the depths of his knowledge not only on the history of Wabash basketball (at least where he was involved), but on his opinions on how the game has changed since he started coaching and why he felt that way. Remember, he came to Wabash in 1976, won a national championship in 1982. That game is on YouTube. This was pre-shot clock, pre-three point, pre-alternating possession. Watching that game is a striking reminder of how different a game basketball used to be. If you just dropped in from outer space, you might not think it is the same game. Here, as a bit of a reward for getting through my little Oscar speech, here is that game.
How else would you explain the baffling decisions made on fast breaks? The one where Paul George feebly flipped the ball at the rim was especially bad, and kind of summed up all the problems the Pacers’ budding superstar has right now in a nutshell. Instead of using the athletic gifts God gave him to just go at the rim and dunk the damn ball, he was so concerned about Kirk Hinrich and drawing the foul that the whole thing looked awkward and pathetic. And all PG can do is stand there and beg for a call. Really, dude? I don’t care if he pulled out a sledgehammer and played some Tonya Harding defense. You will not get that call if you go so timidly at the rim on a fast break. At any level. This is not the first time PG has gone all prima donna on us and whined that he doesn’t get calls other superstars do. I’m tired of it. Sick and fucking tired of it. Should he get more calls? Maybe. Should he worry about it? Not for one single moment. Just play the game and let the officials make the calls. Would PG have been guaranteed points if he had just gone at the rim? Maybe not. Maybe Hinrich makes the block somehow, maybe you somehow miss. But I doubt it. It sure seems to me if PG had been the first moticum aggressive, he would have essentially guaranteed at least two points out of the play with a good chance at a free throw after. Instead, well, we got the train wreck we saw.
That was but one botched fast break. There were others. There were also many questionable, quick shots and questionable, head-scratching passes. There was a lack of blocking out. And this has been more of a trend, as pointed out yesterday. You are going to have off-nights in the NBA. It’s 82-plus games. Nobody can keep their focus that sharp for that long. But when it keeps happening? That’s data. And that’s scary.
I don’t know what the problem is. Have the midseason moves totally messed up the chemistry? Has the injury to CJ Watson ruined the bench, which puts too much pressure on the starters? Are they just bored? I don’t know the answer to that one, but I do know that Miami is coming to town tomorrow, and they know they are within striking distance of that top spot. Whatever the problem is, it better get fixed quick. This team is too often looking like a team that believes their own hype and thinks their reputation will get them through games. Frankly, it doesn’t work like that. I truly believed this was a team that would not fall victim to this given what has happened to them the last two seasons in the playoffs. But, here we are.
The only upside is there is still time to fix it. And no time like the present with your arch-rival coming into your building. As a team, you have publicly stated that the best chance to finally get over that hump is getting home court advantage and making Miami win in the Fieldhouse. If you want all of that to come true, it is truly time to put up or shut up.
Isn’t scheduling funny sometimes?
I’ve been in Ireland for the past week hanging out with Nelson, so I haven’t really watched any sports in a bit. I still haven’t looked at a March Madness bracket, and I probably won’t this year. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that Purdue was awful this year. It sure didn’t help pique my interest in college basketball this year.* The Blackhawks look to be cruising into the playoffs. I don’t know if they look like the world-beaters they were last year, but they certainly could win the Cup again. Which leaves us with the Pacers. And, well, I’m concerned.
*On a somewhat related note, apparently Ronnie Johnson is transferring out. Which, frankly, good riddance. I was never a huge fan of his game, as much as I tried to talk myself into being a fan. The same is generally true for his brother as well. I’ll be looking forward to a Johnson-free season of Boiler basketball. I’ll be interested to see if AJ Hammons comes back. I don’t think he’s really NBA ready yet, but Meyers Leonard finds minutes on a good team, and Hammons is much better at basketball than Leonard. And, well, I’m not convinced that Purdue has shown Hammons much reason he should stay. Sad, but true. Coach Painter has to be feeling the pressure at this point, too. The murmuring has definitely started. The volume will only increase with another disappointing year.
Obviously I didn’t see any of the games last week. But I know there is no reason for the Pacers to ever lose to the Knicks this year, and I’m told the Pacers “laid an egg” against Memphis. This has been a bit of a trend with the Pacers since just before the All Star Break. This team just plainly does not look like the same team it seemed like at the end of last year and to start this season. Paul George does not look at all like the same player he did to start the year. I have vocally not been a big fan of the moves made around the deadline this year. Not that Danny Granger would necessarily be a savior, his stats this season are clearly well below his career average. There are more than a few experts who have declared him done, and they could well be right. But, by God, why the hell would you mess with the chemistry this team had? It’s not like Evan Turner has really given you anything Danny wasn’t. And Andrew Bynum? That’s gone about as well as expected.
At the beginning of the year, I fervently believed the Pacers would win the Eastern Conference and very possibly the whole damn thing. Now? I’m not so sure. The only thing that keeps me optimistic is that the Eastern Conference really is just putrid, and Miami has not been tearing the league up, either. Their slump means the Pacers have held on to the top spot that they have so publicly coveted. A three game lead as of today, which is nice. The only other little hope spot I have is that the team knows the playoffs are in sight and are just doing enough to hold serve until the “real season” starts. The game against Miami on Wednesday will likely tell us a lot about where this team is mentally. None of this, though, leaves me confident that the Pacers can hold off a determined team from the Western Conference. This team desperately needs to regain that fire, that desire they had to start the year when they ripped off one of the best starts ever in the NBA.
But, hey, if the Pacers beat the Bulls tonight, they clinch the Central Division for (surprisingly) only the sixth time. Of course, a lot of that is because of the ABA years and how most of the Pacers best years in the NBA happened to overlap with the Michael Jordan era. Still, doesn’t it seem like the Pacers have been too consistently good since the early ‘90’s to have only won their division six times?
At least the Pacers are avoiding all the off-court drama that derailed the last championship caliber teams . . . right? I know, I know. I'm complaining a lot for a team that doesn't even have twenty losses with just a few games left to go in the season. I'm just worried, that's all.