It took them over three months and 47 games, but the Indiana Pacers finally notched their first three-game winning streak. They did it by getting 21 more Free Throws than Portland – and making 15 more. They did it by grabbing almost 85% of the rebounds off their defensive glass, and almost a third of the ones available off of their own glass.
Watching the game, there didn’t seem to be any single player’s performance that jumped out at me, though Dahntay Jones played reasonably well in his time. Hibbert (15 points, 6 rebound) and Collison (11 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists) were solid, but unspectacular. However, Danny Granger’s game jumped out at me in looking at the box score.
Twenty-five points and nine rebounds for the team’s captain went a long way in this game. What’s even more impressive is that he did it on only 13 FGAs. To get a sense of how rare that is for Danny, you need to understand that this was the 108th time he’d scored 25 or more points. It was only the sixth (6th) time he’d done it on 13 or fewer FGAs. The last time was over a year ago against Detroit, and you have to go all the way back to November of 2007 to find the one before that.
Which — following 8p9s’ grand tradition of burying the lede — brings me to the story of the night: Frank Vogel’s proclamation of a new Pacer identity.
If you go to Pacers.com and watch the new coach’s post-game press conference (and you really should), you’ll see someone who is seemingly both rejecting the past and boldly declaring his vision:
“This is a new team, a new beginning. This is going to be a special end of the year. Jump on board. We play with enthusiasm, hard work, and we play blue-collar, smash-mouth basketball. We’re an old-school team. We’re simple.”
UPDATE: Here’s the video of Vogel’s post-game talk. Seriously. Watch it.
If this is true — or it becomes true — then it seems that Bird could not possibly pick a more opportune time to make the switch. Starting with the Toronto game on Monday, the Pacers would play 11 of the following 15 games against opponents with losing records. The simple Strength of Schedule for that stretch was .415, and the advanced SoSHR was only .407. Remove the two games against the Miami Heat, and you’ve got an SoSHR of only .357.
Here’s a look:
The upcoming stretch is as close to training wheels as any NBA team or any fledgling NBA coach is likely to ever get in the middle of the season. If this team is really going to be a different team (I don’t believe it is – yet), then they should be able to get plenty of positive reinforcement between now and March 2nd. Of the 15 games, the only two games I wouldn’t classify as “winnable” are the pair against Miami. Of the other 13, the Pacers have already won three.
If Indiana really want this new identity to take hold (and if they really want to make the playoffs), then the bar needs to be set high. The Pacers will need to win seven or eight of the remaining ten “winnable” games. Excluding the Miami games, that would probably look like 5-1 or 6-0 at home, and 2-2 or 3-1 on the road. Whether that’s doable or not is an open question, but it seems to be a necessity if they’re going to meet their stated goals.
Why the short-term pressure? Well, because this team wasted almost all of December and January, and regardless of whether that’s the fault of Jim O’Brien or not, this Pacer team will have to pay for those sins. And the rest of March is the come-to-Jesus meeting on this season:
From a standings/playoff perspective, the Pacers will need as many wins as possible over the rest of February. They currently stand 20-27 and are one game behind the current 8th Seed, the Charlotte Bobcats. Clearing the bar I set earlier in this post would put the Pacers at either 27-32 or 28-31. That’s a huge amount of progress, but even that may not be enough.
I think it will take at least 39 wins to make the playoffs. The March schedule above shows 11 road games and six at home. Not a favorable mix for a team who, after winning five of their first seven road games, lost 14 of their next 16, and only barely surviving against a team currently working a 23-game losing streak in their last trip away from home. I’ve marked six road games in green to indicate them as “winnable” contests. I believe they’ll need to split those games, and win all of the home games in black to stay within reach.
And in order to do that, or better, this Indiana Pacer team will have to become every bit the team that Frank Vogel described last night. They do that, and Vogel will have been absolutely justified in saying that this will be a “special end of the year,” and you’d do well to “jump on board.”
Can the Pacers do this? Can they change who they are? I don’t know. I hope so. In any case, it’s been a long time since games in February meant something – really anything – to the Pacers. They’ll need to capitalize if they want the games in March and April to mean more.
Post-Game Quotes As Told by Incredibly Bad Amateur Photography
“We’re playing together,” Hibbert said. “We’re close knit. We’re allowed to make changes and adjustments in the game. Coach will ask for our advice in timeouts.”
“Jeff Foster…Nobody wants to play against Jeff Foster. Nobody.”
“Nobody wants to play against Tyler Hansbrough. Nobody,” Vogel said. “Talk about blood and guts. That’s fun.”
”We’re simple. We win the war in the trenches with defense and rebounding.”
“I’m very, very proud of our guys,” Vogel said. “We’re changing the identity of our basketball team dramatically. We’re a power-post team, blood and guts, old-school-smash-mouth team.”
Just as additional information, here’s a look at the April Schedule:
It’s not an overwhelming schedule, but it’s not easy either. Unfortunately, it includes a home game against Milwaukee, who has had the Pacers number in the last few closely-contested match ups. Worse, Atlanta comes to town, and they’ve been Kryptonite to Indy. Well, the Pacers are hardly a super team, so “kryptonite” might not be the best simile. Perhaps the Hawks are dairy to the extremely lactose-intolerant Pacers.