Seasons end, and for all but one playoff team each year, they end with a loss. Tonight, it was the Pacers’ turn.
While there were many things the Pacers could have done better, and many opportunities they missed, the basic reality is that the Heat were just better. Specifically, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were just better. For Miami to win this series, those two players had to deliver nothing short of greatness.
And deliver it they did.
I was in the Pacer locker room after the game. It was a subdued, quiet place. George Hill sat leaning back in his chair looking at the ceiling. Paul George was hunched over, chin in hand, engaged in his normal postgame ritual of reading the stat sheet. Danny Granger sat patiently, but quietly answering questions for a procession of reporters – each waiting on queue to ask him the same thing in a slightly different way.
Then there was David West.
West was scheduled to be the Pacer player coming to the table in the interview room, so he wasn’t – strictly speaking – available for questions in the locker room. As people moved around him, West was million miles away. Or, more accurately, he was a few hundred feet away and in a different time. In his thousand yard stare, you could almost see the flicker as he replayed the game in his mind. Each missed shot. Each turnover. Every Dwyane Wade bucket – each one more ridiculous than the last.
Later, he would talk about the game in hushed, thoughtful tones. He would talk about the future, and this as a good learning experience for the younger guys, and the fact that the Pacers need to dedicate themselves to getting past this point next season. He would sum it up by saying, “It just wasn’t our time,” but not without betraying his underlying belief that it could have, perhaps even should have been.
But, sitting in the locker room, he was just a man trying to get a hold of his pain and disappointment. In that way, and in that moment, David West was exactly like many, many Pacer fans. He was like me.
For as much as tonight hurts, I can’t help but smile. It has been a very long time since the end of the Pacer season arrived with regret, instead of relief. It is a familiar pain…a welcome pain. It’s the kind of pain you can only feel when your team matters to you again.
I wandered around the locker room, picking up snippets of audio from different players, but nothing extensive. I had plenty of opportunities to ask questions, but none came to me. So, I drifted around, hoping for some divine inspiration, until I noticed that Pacer P.R. Director David Benner had briefly abandoned his guard post around West.
After glancing around, I slipped over to West’s locker, and told him I had no questions. I only wanted to thank him for how helpful he’d been to me as a writer during my first season with credentials, and how much I’d enjoyed watching him play.
How much I’d enjoyed watching them play.
The analysis of what happened, and where Indiana goes from here will come in due time with due diligence. It is not coming tonight.
Tonight, I only have the pain that feels like a long lost old friend. And while that makes me sad, it also makes me happy … if that makes any sense at all.