Class. Character. Hard work. Old school basketball. Playing the game in the right way.
Minutes after the Pacers season ended in a disappointing Game 7 loss to the Heat, those were the words Frank Vogel used to describe his team. A team that suddenly looks ready to compete for championships for many years to come.
At the start of this season, following the Pacers’ second round loss to the Heat in the 2012 playoffs, I don’t think anyone — even Pacers fans — saw this as a team that would be a perennial threat to make the NBA Finals. Not this season anyway. When the Pacers announced that Danny Granger would be gone until around All-Star Game, the team’s hopes looked even bleaker. Then came the 3-6 start and it became a question whether this team will even make the playoffs this season. There had yet to be found a solid replacement to fill Danny’s absence and the bench was in complete disarray.
Roy Hibbert and Paul George, who now look to be the corner stones of the future, were flat out awful. Roy Hibbert wasn’t living up to the monster contract he received in the offseasoon, averaging only ten points per game on 41% shooting before the all star game. Paul George was turning the ball over left and right trying to split screens, while scoring only 14.3 points a game at a 39% clip in the month of November.
Nonetheless, the Pacers fought through it and came together. Lance Stephenson stepped up to enter the starting lineup. Paul George started to reach the potential that Larry Bird had seen when he drafted the Fresno kid. And the bench was starting to contribute.
The Pacers fought back to enter All-Star break with a 32-21 record, in large part due to winning 10 out of their last 13 games. Despite this, many questions remained. Do they have someone who can score in crunch time, a go-to guy to take the last shot? Can they improve their offense which to that point had been the seventh worst (in terms of points per 100 possessions) in the league? Can they advance past the second round despite their youth and inexperience?
These are the questions the national media was asking. They weren’t buying this team as a legit contender.
The Pacers answered.
They used the trio of George Hill, Paul George and David West to score in crunch time. Their offense improved drastically, ranking as the 11th best in the league after the All-Star break. And they did this all while looking like one of the NBA’s more battle-tested teams. The national media started, little by little, noticing them. Many began to consider the Pacers as the biggest threat in the East to the Heat.
Throughout the second half of the season, we saw everything. A five-game winning streak -(with four victories coming on the road) and then complete no shows against teams like the lowly Wizards. They held on for wins in close games, and completely blew open others. They completed a magnificent comeback against the Cavs, and then fell short on the comeback attempt vs. the Nets.
They ended the season losing their final five out of six games, once again looking like a team that might not be ready.
They answered that by dominating the Hawks in the first two games of round one only to follow it up by laying two giant eggs in Atlanta, leaving the question: “Can this team win a playoff game on the road?”
They responded — after dominating game 5 in Indiana — by closing out the final game of the series on the road and, immediately after, winning again on the road in New York. They were able to take a 3-1 lead lead with the series heading back to New York. It seemed like they’d be able to close out the series in game 5 but then we found out Geroge Hill wouldn’t play. They lost that game and it suddenly looked like they might cough up game 6 at home and lose the series in game 7. But no, in Game 6 against the Knicks, they had a ten-point lead going into the half and it looked about sealed. But then came New York’s three-point barrage. Iman Shumpert hit three triples in a row while the Knicks hit in total four in a row to tie up the game. The Knicks had a two-point lead with just under six minutes left in the game, but the Pacers replied. They were able to win the game by six points despite being deemed as “a team that can’t score in crunch time”.
Bring on the Heat.
Game 1 ended in the most devastating of devastatings. Most people were stating how impossible it would be to come back and make a series after losing the first game on a last-second bucket in overtime. I was thinking to myself that if there was ever a team mentally tough enough to do so, it was this Pacers team. And that’s exactly what they did. They went toe to toe with the big bad wolf. They fought them in crunch time and won in games where they didn’t have the lead for the entire 4th quarter.
(Let’s not talk about the Game 7 loss)
This play pretty much sums up the 2012-13 Pacers.
It was no the the “play of the season,” but it was maybe the play that best sums up how the Pacers played this season. They were imposing, relentless and refused to surrender. There was always adversity, but they almost always overcame.
That was one hell of a season.
But guess what? It only gets better from here. Eastern Conference champions? NBA champions? Multiple years as NBA champions?
So get ready for the ride full of class, character, hard work, old school basketball and playing the game in the right way. But most importantly a ride full of success.
Topics: Rearview Mirror