This is a step forward.
We think we have been learning some things about the Pacers recently as they have knocked off Miami and Los Angeles in addition to nearly beating the Thunder and hanging with Orlando. Being able to play well against the league’s best teams is obviously a good barometer.
It’s also nice to be able to play less-than-stellar ball and still beat bad teams.
Indiana had a few nice stretches of play tonight in their 107-98 victory over the Sacramento Kings. They started the game out wonderfully, for example, dropping six points in transition to open the game, two of which came after one of the best outlet passes you will ever see from Josh McRoberts. (More on this later, but he is a very, very good outlet passer. And I’m not sure if it’s his influence or Jim O’Brien’s or Vitaly Potapenko’s or what … but Roy has improved quite a bit as well as have others. It seems contagious. Maybe it’s Darren Collison calling for it in the right spots and catching it on the fly? We’ll dig deeper and get back to you. Regardless, appreciate how Josh is helping the team initiate the offense sooner. That can be big in this league.)
More impressively, they opened the second half on an 17-2 run, turning what had been a close game into one that the Pacers would control the rest of the way. Sure, they slowed down, got sloppy and looked highly mediocre at best for stretches of the third — and again in the mid-4th.
But they never fell apart. They didn’t let the stupid mistake frustrate them.
Last season’s Pacers — as bad teams are wont to do — would let a three- or four-minute stretch or poor play snowball into a tailspin. Now? They seem to better understand how the NBA works. They seem to realize that all teams go through bad stretches. They don’t collectively take on the immature “woe is me … it’s happening AGAIN” vibe that bad teams so often not only fall into, but seemingly embrace, as an excuse to lose. Bad teams are like emo kids who selectively search for evidence that their situation is unfortunate and depressing.
Do good teams do that? Nope. They are comfortable with their innate flaws and confident they can overcome their temporary lapses. Even great teams flounder for stretches. It’s a league of runs, and turnovers, mental mistakes and missed shots so often seem contagious. But the good teams understand this and just stick to the script, continuing to do what they know should work — even when it isn’t.
What do you do when Beno Udrih takes over a game? You don’t go fetal position in the corner. You run your offense and dig in on defense. DeMarcus Cousins stuns you with his strength, quickness and determination on the offensive glass? You give him his props and then go do you.
It’s the difference between looking at the other team steal your lunch money for a series of possessions and saying “Come ON, guys … What is going on?” and seeing the same thing and saying “COME on, guys … We gotta get it going.”
It’s seemingly a subtle difference. But it’s huge.
That said, this game wasn’t real adversity. The Pacers showed they were the better team for most of the game — even when they didn’t. Tomorrow? Going to Utah to face one the hottest teams in the league on their home court on the second night of a back-to-back? That’s adversity.
Hopefully, we can learn a little more about this Pacers squad then.
Until then …