Game #13 Recap - Once More, with Feeling

At halftime of last night’s game, I tracked down a fellow Pacer follower who makes it his habit to walk laps around the lower concourse of Conseco Fieldhouse during the break.  The following conversation ensued:

Me – They (the Pacers) are going to have to stop doing this.

Bill – Why?

Me – Because I’m afraid that I won’t be able to keep from getting giddy.

(Both giggle like schoolgirls)

OK…I may have dramatized that a bit…made up some details.  (It was only Bill who giggled like a schoolgirl.)  But, still, that’s the feeling at the moment.  The sense that there’s something real and something good about this team, wrapped up in the realization that the sample size is small and the road ahead is long.

This was a trap game, and it started out pretty rough.  It took 3:27 for either team to be able to hit a field goal (though the Pacers were up 5-1 on free throws).  Indiana shot only 7-for-24 in the quarter, and would have gone scoreless over the last three and a half minutes of the first, if not for Brandon Rush’s halfcourt buzzer beater.

The Pacers still led 24-16 after 12 minutes.

The Cavs scored the first four points of the second, but it was to be their last (meaningful) surge of the night.  By the time Danny Granger’s three at 3:26 mark of the quarter gave Indy their first 20-point lead, it was clear that the Pacers would own this night.

Though the offense showed signs of a hangover, the defense did not.  By the end of the first quarter, the Pacers had harried the Cavs into 32% shooting and seven (7) turnovers – five from steals.   The second quarter numbers showed 40% shooting and  four more turnovers.  Through three quarters, the Cavs eFG% was .331.

For the game, the Pacers Defensive Rating was 95.4.  Per Basketball-Reference.com as of this morning, the Pacers ranked 3rd in Def eFG% (.471), 3rd in DRB% (.778), and 6th in overall DefRtg (101.5).   It needs to be pointed out once again that the Pacers have played a favorable schedule to this point.  But…if they are still even close to these levels after the next two weeks, then they should be regarded as a serious defensive team.

More on Miami

Not to dwell too much, but it appears like playing the Heat is like going to a party with a bunch of smokers – the smell stays  in your clothes for days.  Anyway, this little section is spurred by this little vignette from Dwyane Wade.

“You just want to see enjoyment out there with guys, you want to see guys having fun playing together,” Wade said. “Myself, LeBron, and Chris [Bosh], this is what we wanted to do. You want to see guys having fun playing with us and I don’t think you’re seeing that.”

As James, Wade, and the rest of the Heat continue their quest towards achieving the greatness that is expected of them, you can be sure they have no interest in playing like the Pacers.

“The Indiana Pacers — and take nothing away from them — but they don’t have a lot of playmakers,” Wade said. “Their offense is their playmaker and they do a great job of it, but that’s why they play the style of ball they play. That’s not LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. That’s not our games so we have to figure out with our games and our strengths what to do and that’s not us. Yeah, we move the ball and we have offensive sets to get the ball moving, but we’re not trying to play like the Indiana Pacers.”

Yeah, that’s great.  I’ll tell you what – the rest of the league is reading that, and thinking, “You go, girl.  You just keep thinking that.”

Don’t get me wrong – I am not advocating that the Heat run an uptempo passing game.   My problem remains two-fold.  First, what’s this “fun” nonsense?  It’s been my experience that fun comes from success, and success comes from hard work.  Methinks that the King, the Typo, and the Kid Brother have everything bass-ackwards here.  Tom Hanks was right – the “hard” is what makes it great.

Second, they’ve got to realize that they can no longer be “LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade” – at least not if they want to win a title (let alone,  titles).  They have to become “the Miami Heat,” and that means they have to forge one identity.  Man, it feels like they’re light years away from that at the moment.

And How That Relates to the Pacers

I think most people who follow the Pacers and the NBA are reconciled to the idea that it’s exceedingly unlikely that Indiana will ever attract a megastar level player.  A LeBron.  A Flash.  A Kobe.  Indianapolis isn’t really what you’d call a “destination city” for free agents.   The odds of getting a player like that through the draft are long, even if you’re willing to throw games to get a better pick – which, thankfully, the Pacers are not.

Therefore, in order for the Pacers to contend at a high level, they will need to be a team in the fullest sense of the word.  The whole will need to be greater than the sum of its parts.

The Pacers are showing signs of moving in this direction.  While key members of the Heat have openly questioned the coach, consider this quote that Mike Wells got from T.J. Ford:

“We’re a different team,” he said. “The environment is a lot better. I think everybody has bought into coach (Jim) O’Brien’s system.

“At the end of the day everybody is listening. In the past everybody wasn’t listening and questioned a lot of his decisions. Right now everybody is trusting him and letting him make decisions.”

I admitted before the season that I like Jim O’Brien, but neither that, nor this has much to do with O’Brien himself or being proven right, wrong, or otherwise.   It’s about the idea of identity and unity for a team.

Franchises rarely get to hand pick their players, and for that reason, you rarely find a group that is naturally complementary to each other.  It is up to the front office to match the team as well as possible, but it’s up to the coach and players to forge a single identity.  All must believe, and all must commit.

While I certainly don’t want to undersell the importance of the coach and the fifteen players in this, I think some of this growth together can be traced back to how Larry Bird dealt with the question of Jim O’Brien’s future last December:

“Jim is going to be here, that’s one thing the players have to know,” Bird said today. “The coach is secure. We wouldn’t have picked up his option if we didn’t think he was secure. If the players have a problems with Jim, the players are the ones that are probably going to leave.”

Though everyone recognizes that there are clear limitations on the practical application of that statement, I believe it still had a profound effect on this team.  It wasn’t immediate.  The team continued to struggle, but by the end of the season, they cared again.

With those words, Larry Bird re-established the primacy of the head coach in the Pacers’ locker room.  That doesn’t just benefit Jim O’Brien, it will benefit his successor.  It doesn’t just benefit the Pacers in terms of better team coherence, it will make them a more attractive destination for coaches.  It seems to me that – as long as Bird is here – the coach will have the support necessary from the front office in order to forge a team identity.

This year for the Pacers is about becoming This Team instead of These Players, and this dynamic will go a long way towards achieving that goal.  It’s going to be a very hard thing to accomplish, and this season will be difficult and filled with ups and downs.   However, this is the first time possibly since 2004 that the Pacers franchise has actually been trying to build towards something rather than simply trying to survive.

As Benjamin Franklin said in my all-time favorite quote:

“We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Game Notes

  • Mike Dunleavy started last night, but Brandon Rush played well off the bench.  The wing position is starting to solidify into a pretty strong three-man rotation of Danny Granger, Rush, and Dunleavy.  This isn’t great news for rookie Paul George’s prospects for playing time, but it is for the Pacers prospects of making the playoffs.
  • Roy Hibbert struggled last night, managing only 6 points and 7 rebounds before leaving with a headache.  Nothing to be concerned about on any front.  Anderson Varejao is an outstanding defender, and Roy tweeted that he’s feeling fine today.  More encouragingly, he only committed 2 fouls in 21 minutes, so hopefully, the last two games were just a blip.
  • Tyler Hansbrough didn’t see any action at all in the first half, but started the third quarter and played 20 of the 24 second half minutes.  Josh McRoberts started the game and played 17 first half minutes, but did not play at all in the third quarter.  He returned to play Center for all 12 4th quarter minutes, mostly with Hansbrough as his running mate at the bigs.  Not sure what was going on there, but both played relatively well.
  • Darren Collison showed no ill effects from his ankle last night, putting up a line of 18-6-7 with zero turnovers.  All the while, thoroughly kicking Mo Williams’ (zero first half points, 6 for the game) ass at both ends.
  • Byron Scott deserves better than this.  He had a little friendly back-and-forth with Kelly Dwyer this fall, after Dwyer had predicted only 12 wins for Byron’s Cavs.   At this point, I’m not sure I can see them winning six games, let alone 12.  Hell, I don’t know how they’ve won five (and since I only saw the Boston game, I’m not sure that it’s not a typo).   Look, everybody has off nights, but I look at that team and see nothing.  No youth, no talent, not even a whole bunch of effort guys.  The only other guy on that roster I feel for is Anderson Varejao.  He deserves better, too.  Mo Williams, on the other hand, does not.

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Tags: Darren Collison Game Recap Jim O'Brien

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