I watched Friday night’s game from the perspective of someone who follows and writes about the Pacers. In that game, I saw the Pacers as weak-willed and timid. The Knicks, I saw as a dog walking on its hind legs. Sure they were aggressive and physical, but it was a parlor trick. Nothing real or sustainable.
I watched Saturday night’s game from the perspective of a stringer for ESPN New York – in effect, a member of the “New York Media.” In that game, I saw the Knicks as a team that knew who they wanted to be. A team that lapsed into bad habits in the first quarter, but with the focus of someone who genuinely wants to change and improve, fought its way back to playing the physical, hard-nosed basketball that they showed on Friday night.
And the Pacers looked like a team the Knicks should expect to beat regularly.
If you throw out the first quarter of Saturday night’s game, and a garbage-time fourth quarter from Friday’s, the Indiana Pacers could only manage 80.5 points per 100 possessions against the Knicks this weekend. Over eight quarters, the Pacers could produce only one good offensive quarter (Saturday’s first) and one good defensive quarter (Saturday’s third) when the outcome was still in question.
It’s amazing what a shift in perspective does. The first 50-degree day of the fall is freezing, while the first 50-degree of the spring is positively balmy.
Danny Granger has taken some flak for calling these “winnable” games last week. The flak is largely silly. As the Pacers approached this game, the Knicks were five games under .500 and had just had their coach resign. Their season had evolved into a different variation of the circus that has been Knicks basketball for much of the last decade.
The Pacers were nine games over .500. Of course, these games should have been viewed as “winnable.”
However, if you’d gone into hibernation on December 24th, just waking up this weekend for a touch o’ the pure, you would have expected what you just saw – that the Knicks are better than the Pacers.
The question now is, “Which perspective is right?”
Coming into the season, I had thought the Pacers were probably a 5- or 6-seed, without much upside or downside from that. Since then, it’s changed, and that change was driven by two different things.
First, Indy played better, sooner than I had expected. With 15 of their first 22 games on the road, I expected struggles that didn’t occur. Second, teams like Boston and New York significantly underperformed my expectations.
Now, the Pacers are being measured by me and others based on heightened expectations. Wins in L.A., Chicago, and Dallas made us wonder if the Pacers were for real. If they could end up as the third best team in the East.
And from wondering, it’s a very short leap to taking it as fact.
But it’s not. The Pacers are a flawed team just taking their first steps back to being a contender. They can probably be considered “good,” but certainly not much more than that. Indy is a cut below the best teams in the league.
From the day Frank Vogel took over as coach, he has never shied from high expectations. Often, he created them himself. High expectations are great…you know the whole “reach should exceed your grasp” thing…but the Pacers are drifting into a danger zone, here.
There is a backlash that occurs when expectations go from being high to being unrealistic. At that point, the only outcome is failure.
The Pacers need to not worry about who they are or aren’t beating, and who they are or aren’t better than. They need to figure out how best to play together, and how to get back to defending.
All of the other things will follow.
|David West, PF 26 MIN | 1-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 3 PTS |
I see numbers in the box score, but cannot recall David West being on the floor at all.
|Danny Granger, SF 36 MIN | 5-15 FG | 4 REB | 11 PTS |
Danny says the offense isn’t working. Danny, buddy, the defense ain’t exactly the cat’s pajamas.
|Roy Hibbert, C 36 MIN | 8-13 FG | 8-9 FT | 12 REB | 24 PTS |
Good bounce back game after Friday’s debacle. Really can’t ask for any more for him, but it’s kind of disturbing how little impact such a good game from Roy Hibbert had on the outcome.
|Darren Collison, PG 39 MIN | 6-16 FG | 6 REB | 3 AST | 15 PTS |
OK offensively. Bullied defensively, but I just figure he was going with the rest of the Pacer crowd on that one.
|Paul George, SG 32 MIN | 6-13 FG | 4-5 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 18 PTS |
Numbers, numbers everywhere. Not sure any of them mean anything.
|Dahntay Jones, SG 9 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0 REB | 4 PTS |
Dahntay is what Dahntay is. I’d rather have a guy like Dahntay, than a guy like Brandon, but…I’d rather have a guy like Mike Dunleavy, Jr. than a guy like Dahntay.
|Louis Amundson, C 10 MIN | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 PTS |
Play a few good games, Lou, and the grading curve goes up. Other than one brief flurry of activity, he was basically non-existent.
|A.J. Price, G 9 MIN | 1-5 FG | 2-4 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS |
During the stretch in the first half, when the Knicks bench made it their game, A.J. kept ending up with the ball, and all I could think was, “This must be what hopelessness feels like.”
|George Hill, SG 28 MIN | 1-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 4 PTS |
Didn’t score. Didn’t defend. Got a silly technical foul. Starter material.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 16 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-1 FT | 1 REB | 5 PTS |
Last year, Tyler Hansbrough scored 29 and 30 points in the consecutive March matchups against the Knicks. This year, he didn’t.