I've been on a bit of an enforced hiatus thanks to a much-heavier-than-my-pay-would-suggest workload lately. Which is fine, thanks to the total implosion of the Pacers and Blackhawks. The less said about the Cubs' plans with Wrigley Field, the better. So, instead, I'm announcing a formal hiatus from the blog so I can focus on another project. With the Indiana Ice (nee Danville Wings) going dormant after a championship season, I want to write the complete history of the franchise. Here is the (unedited) foreword of said project.
If we’re being totally honest here, and I am certainly striving to be that, this book is the result of a little bit of guilt. The best way to explain that, I think, is to tell you how I got into hockey and this team.
Neither of my parents watched any hockey when I was really young. Nobody else I knew in Covington knew or cared anything for hockey. Everything I knew about hockey came from glimpses of it in TV shows and movies. I wish I could say I had more reality based knowledge, but I didn’t have any real choice in the matter. We didn’t have satellite TV until I was in middle school, so no ESPN or anything like that was going to bring hockey into my house. And even if I’d wanted to, the nearest NHL team to us, the Blackhawks, didn’t broadcast their home games anyway. For most of my childhood, hockey was more of a vague idea than something I would really be into.
Something did finally flip a switch for me, and for my brother. Again, I wish I could say it had a more realistic basis, but that would be a lie. No, what opened up the world of hockey to us was video games. We had a game for the Sega Genesis to go along with all our different baseball games, and suddenly the NHL become something more than a theory to us. It was also around that same time DirecTV came into our lives. The glimpses of real hockey were still brief, but they were there, and it was something we could put to our video game hockey. It was enough.
But, as I’m sure anybody can tell you, hockey is a game that is best experienced live. And as luck would have it, the neighboring “big town,” Danville, Illinois, had just gotten a new team. Danville has had hockey off-and-on throughout the life of the Palmer Arena, and that history is probably worth a book of its own. It’s certainly worth a blog post, which I have already written. But, for all the teams Danville had, it was the Danville Wings that really hit the town during my developmental sweet spot, and it was a team that captured Danville’s attention in a way hockey certainly never has since. And maybe not ever before. I couldn’t tell you for sure, I wasn’t really around for the Saints or the original Dashers.
My dad worked in Danville for an awfully long time. One of the nice things about the company he worked for was it supported the community teams well. This meant there were always Danville Dans games to go to, which was the summer collegiate team. When the Wings came to town, that meant there were free hockey tickets, too. My dad doesn’t watch or particularly know anything about hockey now, and certainly didn’t then, either. But he also wasn’t about to pass up free tickets to any sport. So away we went to the games.
It was mesmerizing and opened up my young mind to a whole world I had never really considered before. I don’t know why I never put it together before in my head. I was already a huge fan of and pretty knowledgeable about lower league baseball, between the aforementioned Dans and the Indianapolis Indians, whose games we also went to fairly regularly. But hockey? I didn’t realize there was such a thing, and especially not right in my backyard. If there was going to be lower level hockey, I would have thought you’d have to go to Canada. Or at least Wisconsin. But, no, there were the Wings, battling it out in the NAHL (and later USHL) just ten or fifteen minutes away.
It started out with the free tickets, but eventually we would just go now and then because it was fun. Especially once I got a little older and had my own money (and transportation) to go. But just as I was able to have the freedom to watch hockey more or less whenever I wanted, it was snatched away from me.
Indianapolis came calling, and the pockets there were much deeper than anybody’s in Danville. The Indianapolis Ice, the AAA and later AA team, had moved away. There wasn’t that big of a draw for hockey in Indiana. But, while the city maybe didn’t have the interest for minor league hockey, there was enough of a following for a junior league team. And of all the teams they could have lured away, they targeted Danville’s team. And the team sold and quickly became the Indiana Ice.
I was distraught. The Wings had gone from being one of the top draws in a struggling city that could really use the distraction to being an afterthought in an otherwise professional, major American metropolis. It didn’t sit right with me. It felt wrong, it felt cheap, it felt petty that my hockey team would be moved. I wouldn’t say ripped away from me. I was about to start at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. From there, Indianapolis and Danville were about the same distance away. Still, I had resolved as soon as they moved that the Ice were dead to me. Wings forever!
I stayed committed to Danville hockey for some time. I even went to a few Danville Pounders games. To call that hockey, as my good buddy Nelson Barre can attest to, would be insulting to the game. The final scores of those games typically fell somewhere in the 22-17 range. But still made it to a few of those games. And I still actively refused to attend an Ice game, even though I knew the level of hockey was much better than what I was subjecting myself to in Danville.
Time, though, as it’s said, heals all wounds. The Pounders came and quickly went. I found myself working in Danville for a time, and a new team reprising the old Dashers name came to town about the same time as I was leaving. I said I would make it to a Dashers game. I still haven’t. I did, however, go to an Indiana Ice game with my brother in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Ice lost, but it was undeniably a fun time, and the hockey was much more in line with what you think of when it comes to hockey. He had been to quite a few Ice games by that point, both in the part-time home of Bankers Life, and more in their more comfortable surroundings in the Pepsi Coliseum at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
As it turns out, that was the only Ice game I ever attended, though I had clearly softened my stance at that point. Clearly Danville had moved on. After they had the Pounders, they had the Inferno for a few seasons before they, too, bolted to Indianapolis. The Inferno, incidentally, was pretty good hockey, and Danville drew well even though the team was constantly a bottom feeder. The new Dashers are still kicking. It was time for me to move on, too.
The Ice, however, are no longer with us. The hockey people of Indianapolis have moved on as well. Junior hockey is great, that much is clear. But as I’ve mentioned, Indianapolis is a big city with professional taste. The Ice could no longer hold the city’s attention. Thus the Indy Fuel has been born, playing in the AA-level ECHL. It should be a great fit. The team has poured an awful lot of money into renovating the venerable old Coliseum. There are ready-made rivals in the league already residing in Fort Wayne and Evansville. With professional hockey coming back, there wasn’t room for the Ice any longer. They filed for dormancy starting next season, and it has been granted.
They did not leave the USHL quietly, though. In their final season, they went out as champions. You can’t ask for much more than that. For all their years in Indianapolis, the Ice only missed the playoffs twice, and they captured the Clark Cup twice as well. And I stubbornly and singularly held on to my grudge for virtually all of it.
I feel bad about it, especially now that the team is gone. If I’m going to hold any grudge, I suppose it should be at the Fuel. But I don’t. I’m sure I’ll check out some of those games. It was inevitable, I feel. But in the wild world that is low-level sports, it seems a shame to just let this team pass into history forgotten. If I can do anything to atone for my self-imposed exile, I can at least do this much. From the 12-win Western Michigan Wolves back in 1988 to the Clark Cup Champion Indiana Ice in 2014, this is the complete history of the franchise. I hope you find it every bit as enjoyable and informative reading it as I did researching and writing it.
Look, I don’t think I’m any great NBA writer. I don’t want to give any misguided impressions. I don’t follow the NBA as a whole with any great depth, and I’ve gone out of my way to make sure everybody that reads me knows this. But, I know this Pacer team, and by extension, I know this Heat team.
I have been telling you,* this is the series this Pacer team has been waiting for since last season ended. This team has been carefully constructed specially to counter the Miami Heat. They have been booted from the playoffs the last two years by the Miami Heat in very tough series. The Heat have been the king of the heap for a few years now. I’m not saying the best way to build a team or something everybody is necessarily happy with, but the Pacers are a team (and fanbase) completely obsessed with beating one team: the Miami Heat.
*”You” being anybody who will listen.
Given that, you have to totally throw out basically everything that happened since the All-Star Break. At that point, the Pacers had pretty firmly put themselves in the driver seat for the top seed in the conference, which was the first step in this process of “Beat the Heat.” Once that happened, the team went into cruise control a bit. And, yes, it almost bit them in the ass. If the Heat hadn’t slacked off as well, the Pacers might not be sitting where they wanted to be. But, the fact remains, at the end of the day, the Pacers grabbed home court advantage over the Miami Heat. When the playoffs started, yes, the Hawks are a bad matchup, no doubt. But this team was also sleepwalking through games, acting as if this series was a birthright. Again, it nearly bit them in the ass, facing two elimination games in the first round. Washington went better,* because Washington is built more traditionally. But, still, this was still clearly a team that wasn’t fully engaged yet. But they did enough.
*Again, as predicted here.
And now? The Pacers are right where they wanted to be from the time the clock hit zero in last year’s game seven. Eastern Conference Finals, facing the Miami Heat, and with home court advantage.
And what happened? The Pacers suddenly looked like that driven, locked in team they looked like at the start of the year. And, don’t look now, but they’ve put a few of these games together now. I’ve written it here, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Nobody in the league can grab the Pacers’ attention the way the Heat can. Sometimes to the team’s detriment, to be sure. But when you are actually facing the Heat? Yeah, it works in their favor. It might have been a bit ugly lately, but they got to the point they wanted to be.
I would also like to think that the Heat* showed their true colors before the game. They like to talk a big game about how Heat-Pacers isn’t a rivalry, how they don’t care what happens in Indiana, so on and so forth. But there was LeBron telling his team in front of the all the cameras and however many millions of people watching that game making his big proclamation. “We know what this is about. They don’t like use, we don’t like them,” he said.** “They talked all year about wanting home court. Be careful what you wish for.” That sounds like somebody who cares, right?
*Or at least LeBron, but what’s the meaningful difference there?
**Paraphrasing, but I’m pretty damned close, I’ll bet.
I would believe it a little more if he hadn’t done it for the cameras, though. And if the Heat had played decent. But let’s not mince words here. The Pacers kicked their ass yesterday. Now, nobody is calling for a sweep here.* I don’t think anybody is expecting less than six games, and the overwhelming majority are looking for a seven game series like last year. But Miami looked like a team that didn’t know what hit them. Their defense was atrocious, and the offense wasn’t much better. Dwyane Wade had 27 points, but they sure seemed like the most meaningless 27 points anybody ever had. My wife and I both mentioned how it seemed like Wade did exactly nothing all game, only to find out later that he led all scorers. Yeah, the Heat made some runs late, but the game was decided by then. The Pacers had all the answers whenever they needed them, and had their patented third quarter beatdown that put the game out of reach. Pacer fans really couldn’t have asked for anything better.
*It would be nice, but I don’t expect it.
Now, do I think what LeBron said was all for show? Not at all. I think he spoke honestly and from the heart, while still being fully aware cameras are everywhere. But this also looked like a Heat team that had a relatively easy draw. The Bobcats provided no real resistance, which was expected as soon as Al Jefferson couldn’t go.* Brooklyn had some promise going into their series, given how their regular season meetings had gone. But, no, Brooklyn just looked old, slow, and beaten before they started. Not surprising, given the ex-Celtic core. Expected, but definitely not the kind of challenge that’s going to sharpen your team to prepare for an opponent that has done nothing but target you in particular for two solid years. A team that, honestly, should have beaten you the year before. Much like the Pacers seemed surprised in how Washington came out of the gate swinging in Game 5, the Heat didn’t know how to handle the energy and determination from the Pacers.
*A fitting end to the Bobcats era, really.
So, yeah, the Heat are going to strike back. They might not win game two, but they are going to strike back. It is going to be a tough series, they are not all going to come as easily as yesterday did. But the difference between the Pacers against the Heat and, say, the Wizards against the Pacers? The Pacers have already shown they can hold their own against the team. The Pacers already have two series under their belt that say they can hang with this team. They also have those two years of smoldering resentment that the Wizards didn’t have. And it came in the opening game of the series, not with their back against the wall, down 3-1.
Besides, have you seen this Pacer team with their back against the wall? They know how to respond to that sort of pressure. Of all the issues the Pacers have had, responding to that situation has not been one of them.
Now, let’s hope the Pacers don’t have to worry about that situation. Like I said, a sweep would be nice.
I had a blog written for yesterday, but it was too short and, frankly, not very good. So it went unposted and now written over, so it will never see the light of day. Too bad for that post.
Now, onto other things, how have I never heard of this book? There was a twenty-year anniversary retrospective on Grantland posted yesterday on The Last Shot, a book that follows Coney Island’s Lincoln High basketball for a season. Granted, I’ve not read any other of these “embedded reporter spends a season with a team” books, and I’ve not particularly wanted to.* This one, though, caught my attention for some reason.
*A short list from the Grantland piece: The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam, A Season on the Brink by John Feinstein, and Friday Night Lights by HG Bissinger. Of course, one of those books is about the Hoosiers, so I won’t ever be touching that book. Though the ESPN movie let everybody know Bobby Knight was sick and tired of losing to Purdue. For the curious, during the season documented in the book, Indiana beat Purdue by one in overtime in Bloomington, and Purdue beat Indiana pretty handily in West Lafayette. Indiana would go on to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament that year to Cleveland State. For completeness’ sake, Purdue also lost in the first round that year, in overtime, to LSU.
I think the reason it caught my imagination is that I could totally write that book. I already have experience as being “part of the team but not really” spending high school as a basketball manager. I could (and maybe should) write a book about the teams going through my time connected with Covington Trojan basketball teams. I’m sure it would be interesting to interview people about it now, especially the final four team my freshman year. I really have half a mind to go ahead and do it. If I could get a publisher’s advance to do this book, I totally would.
Yes, The Last Shot sounds terribly interesting, and it happened to catch Stephon Marbury before anybody really knew he would turn out to be a star.* And, yes, Lincoln High is still producing players today, such as the Pacers’ own Lance Stephenson. Which is interesting and worthy, don’t get me wrong. But relatable? I don’t know. Yes and no, I would suspect. You know what would be absolutely relatable to almost all of America, though? A small-town high school basketball team. More along the lines of Friday Night Lights, but with basketball in Indiana instead of football in Texas. To show how the entire community gathers around these teams and these schools, and hopefully to show what it’s like both inside and outside the bubble of the locker room.
*The retrospective does explain in detail how all of his brothers were supremely talented, but all washed out one way or another.
So, if you’re keeping track at home, I now have three non-fiction books I really need to write. My book about the growth of Indianapolis and how it’s marriage to sport both came about and cemented itself, a retrospective of the basketball teams I was a part of (if not actively on the court), and an embedded season with a small town Indiana basketball team, which also has a good chance of being Covington, because connections. Now all I need is a publisher to front an advance and maybe a decent journalism job to support me between books. No big deal, right?
Some days you wake up and think “I’m a goddamned* Nostradamus.” It doesn’t happen often, and all those misses will make you realized that you are not, in fact, a goddamned Nostradamus.** This weekend, though? Called it. Totally called it.
*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?
Hey, a blog! If you think it’s related to the Pacers winning, you’re partially right! The way the Atlanta series went, I had precious little motivation to actually get anything written. Now, if I were being paid to write this stuff, it would have been a different story. But I’m not, so I took a little break. There were some other things being developed that took some time away, too. I should have that announcement ready to go soon.
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.