As the Indiana Pacers head into the All-Star break, it’s been one helluva of a first half for the blue and gold. Indiana, at 40-11, has the best record in the NBA and a crucial four-game lead over the Miami Heat for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
It’s been a season full of shining moments, but which are the best of the best?
Let’s take a look at Indiana’s top 20 moments up to the All-Star break.
20. Pacers Have Fun Against Boston
Indiana was running away from the Celtics and decided to make some highlight reel plays. Lance Stephenson finds Paul George off a turnover and George, instead of throwing down a dunk himself, decides to earn some good Karma by hitting a cutting George Hill with a ridiculous behind-the-head pass. Teamwork is nice.
19. HE CA’ HOLE DA BAWL LIKE MJ
Born Ready plays the game with a reckless abandon that borderlines on terrifying. But somehow it works out, and when Lance is having fun, the Pacers seem to be a better team. One of his moves is dangling the ball with one hand like a worm on a fishing line. We have seen it many times — Sir Lancealot faking the pass or shot, and defense bites and gets burned — but a few such moments have been particularly memorable.
18. Nuggets Feel Indiana’s Wrath
A day after the Pacers had a catastrophic meltdown against the Orlando Magic on February 9, the Denver Nuggets arrived to Banker’s Life. Denver had to feel pretty confident: It was the Pacers’ second game in as many days, and this season, Indiana has been very beatable in the second game of a back-to-back. Boy, did that confidence fade fast. The Pacers, clearly upset about the night before, demolished the Nuggets 119-80, the 39-point victory being Indiana’s largest of the season. This just goes to show you that on any given night, the Pacers can explode on offense and put up points like an expert pinball player.
17. Sorry, San Antonio
One thing the Pacers did in the first half of the season is play well against other top teams in the NBA. The Spurs can tell you firsthand as they ran into a buzzsaw on December 7. The score might have been 111-100 in favor of Indiana, but it wasn’t that close. After falling behind early, the Pacers used an 84-45 run to crush the spirit of Tim Duncan and Co. More significant, it was in the midst of a five-game West Coast road trip and showed that Indiana’s act travels well.
16. A Play Fit for Hollywood
The Pacers love to help each other out, as evidenced here by Stephenson and George against the Lakers. Stephenson leads George with an absolutely perfect lob pass and once again, PG shows he can get creative around the basket as he gives the L.A. crowd a fancy finish.
15. Breaking the Atlanta Curse
For as long as Hoosiers can remember, the city of Atlanta has been Indiana’s kryptonite. Going into its contest with the Hawks on February 4, the Pacers were losers of 12 straight regular season games in the home of T.I. But, behind the play of David West, the Pacers finally got the hawk off their back. West’s 22 points and 10 boards fueled Indiana to a victory, a confidence builder for the Pacers as a playoff rematch against Atlanta isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
14. Hibbert Cements Status
Roy Hibbert is the clear favorite to be named this season’s Defensive Player of the Year, and no performance demonstrated that fact more than when he dominated the poor Milwaukee Bucks in mid-November. The man in the middle had 8 rejections to go with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Not only did he show everyone he still has offensive capabilities, but he vaulted himself way ahead of the competition for the DPOY.
13. Stephenson Puts Courtney Lee on Skates
It was the Winter Olympics come early when Boston’s Lee tried to guard Stephenson. Stephenson shows he can handle the basketball with the best of them and finishes the ankle-breaking of Lee by making the shot and getting jiggy with it at mid-court.
12. Pacers Remind the Heat They Mean Business
It may have been only a December regular-season matchup, but it felt like a playoff game. The Pacers and Heat battled it out at The Fieldhouse and Indiana fought back after a poor first half to knock off the two-time defending champs. One, this game showed yet again the Pacers refuse to back down to the Heat. They may have been down seven at half, but rallied for a magnificent third quarter, outscoring the Heat 28-17. Two, Miami still hasn’t figured out the big problem (literally) Roy Hibbert presents. He overwhelmed the Heat on his way to 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting. Another Eastern Conference Finals between these two would be epic, and Indiana once again showed its up for the test.
11. Melo Meets Hibbert Vol. 2
We all remember when Roy Hibbert emphatically denied Carmelo Anthony in last season’s playoffs.
10. Bench Leads the Way
After last season, Indiana needed to upgrade its bench, and it welcomed Luis Scola and C.J. Watson with open arms. Danny Granger returned and a respectable unit was born. While the bench play hasn’t been out of this world, it’s been considerably better than a season ago. On February 3, against the Orlando Magic, the bench scored 49 points combined, including three players (Scola, Granger and Watson) in double figures. Having the bench perform like this will be key for Indiana’s title hopes, so it was great to see that this unit is capable of shouldering the load.
9. George Gets Four
At the end of their January 24 game against the Sacramento Kings, the Pacers found themselves down four in the contest’s waning moments. Then, Paul George happened. He sent the game to overtime with this four-point play, and Indiana went on to leave Sacramento with a W.
8. Stephenson’s Assists of the Year
Stephenson shows us he knows what to do with the basketball when it’s in his hands. First, he makes an insane pass to C.J. Watson for a corner three.
Then, he reminds the New York Knicks that he’s from Brooklyn, and though you can take Lance out of the N.Y. playgrounds, you can’t take the N.Y. playgrounds out of Lance.
7. Return to the Granger Zone
After more than a season of being out of commission, Danny Granger returned to action. While Granger hasn’t been stellar (8.4 ppg, 35.6 FG%, 31.4 3FG%), his return is important. He will get better as the season progresses and just might be the final piece to Indiana’s championship puzzle. His experience, size (able to guard LeBron James) and most importantly, scoring touch, will be needed to steady the bench in the playoffs. Also, Granger suffered through Indiana’s post-Brawl dark days. He was key in Indiana’s resurgence and deserves to play on a Pacers team that is clearly in contention. It’s nice to see No. 33 suiting up once again — and it was great to see Danny swat Dwight Howard in his first game back.
6. Stephenson’s First Triple-Double
On November 11 versus the Memphis Grizzlies, Born Ready showed he was ready for his close-up. Stephenson put up 13 points, snagged 11 rebounds and dished out 11 assists for his first-career triple-double. But, this moment isn’t ranked fifth because of what it means on its own; it’s here because of what it started. Since, Lance has posted three more triple-doubles and his total of four lead the entire league. Stephenson’s confidence is through the roof, and now that he knows what he can do the Pacers are that much better. Born Ready is the real deal, but I don’t think he or anyone else truly knew his full potential until his performance against the Grizzlies.
5. The 9-0 Start
Since before the season started, the Pacers made it known their goal was to lock up the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage for the playoffs. Still, the Heat loomed large and taking the top seed from them would be difficult. Indiana came out of the gates in mid-season form and proved it was serious about its claim. The Pacers laid waste to the start of its schedule going 9-0 before losing to the Bulls in Chicago. Their average margin of victory during the run was 12.2 points. The Pacers sent a message to the rest of the league that they had improved and were serious contenders in 2013-14.
4. Hometown Hero and Mr. West Take Down the Blazers
This season, the focus has been on the newfound superstardom of Paul George, the defense of Roy Hibbert, and the improvement of Lance Stephenson. What’s been lost are the steady contributions of fellow starters George Hill and David West. Hill has continued to play great defense and be reliable, and West is as solid as ever, and should be commended for how he’s let his own production suffer for the greater good of the team. But, against Portland on February 7, those two reminded us they remain a very big part of the Pacers’ scheme, and when necessary, can impose their will. West was a crazy efficient 13-of-16 from the floor, scoring 30 points with 10 rebounds. Hill played his best game since suiting up for Indiana. The Indianapolis product dropped a career-high 37 points (including the clutch three-pointer that sent the game to overtime), 9 rebounds and 8 assists. On a night where Portland’s Damian Lillard showed why he is an All-Star this year, Hill matched him step for step, and the Pacers beat one of league’s best teams.
3. George Performance Worthy of Broadway
When the Pacers faced the Knicks in a nationally-televised game on November 20, Paul George gave the crowd at Madison Square Garden a show. George scored 35 point, dropping 28 of them in the second half/overtime. He singlehandedly outscored the Knicks 9-7 in extra time and led Indiana to a victory. Don’t forget the three clutch free throws he sunk to get the game to OT. Let’s just say Iman Shumpert and his teammates were less than thrilled.
2. PG Makes Us Think He’s Reggie Miller
In an early December matchup against the Portland Trailblazers, George played like his jersey number was 31. He punished Portland with three after three, making seven, scoring 43 points by the time the clock hit triple zeroes. The Blazers may have won, but George showed just how much his game had improved — and that he can be deadly in the clutch. He put on a dazzling offensive performance that validated him as one of the league’s top overall talents. If you didn’t believe in George’s ability up to that point, you certainly weren’t doubting him after.
Check it out in case you need a reminder:
1. Paul George’s Dunk vs. the Clippers
Game. Set. Match. The 360 windmill. Not even a discussion.
Topics: Best Of The Best