I’m probably one of those guys that reads a little too much into things like player body language, chemistry, and intangibles. Still, I’ve seen unselfish teamwork by guys that enjoyed playing with each other beat superior talent too many times to believe all of that stuff is unimportant.
For the past six weeks, the Pacers have looked like a team that has simply been going through the motions. Some have theorized that they came out too strong this season, trying too hard to win that number one seed and burnout was inevitable. Others have wondered if they were simply playing above their heads and this was the real team all along.
It may have just been for one night, but the Pacers from November and December returned on Friday night.
When basketball is played the right way, the players play for each other, they draw off of the fans’ energy, and the total winds up turning out greater than the sum of the parts involved. Repeatedly, Friday night, this entire process was on full display.
Early in the second quarter, DJ Augustin began wolfing it up with Donald Sloan. It seemed like the entire state of Indiana jumped to have his back. Throughout the second half, George Hill smothered him on drives to the basket and fought doggedly around screens to remind him of his failures in an Indiana jersey last season. Frank Vogel earned a technical, protecting Hill and letting everyone in the building know how important this game was. Area 55 proudly chanted, “CJ is better” while DJ was at the foul line, causing him to miss a vital one early in the fourth quarter. Hill attacked him offensively, and the Pacers ran back door cuts for GH to get free underneath as the whole building erupted in joyous celebration.
In the third, Good Lance showed up and unleashed a fury of moves that left the hapless Mike Dunleavy, Jr. more embarrassed than he had been in…well…probably about four hours (Mercer). Most telling, rather than criticize and admonish him after earning a foolish technical late in the third, The Five collectively ensured that Lance kept getting the ball so he could keep abusing the former Blue Devil. All of this came after some pointed comments about Lance in Wednesday’s post-game locker room. The team and the crowd, once again, had his back.
But my favorite point came once again in that second quarter. After a decent first quarter in which the Pacers played well but missed a lot of open shots, in came the oft-maligned bench unit – with an obvious omission. Lance took a seat as Chris Copeland joined four other subs for a rarely seen bench wash. Ironically, Cope’s presence was initially felt on defense as he swatted two shots in quick succession. Evan Turner hit some midrange fallaways, Copeland stretched the floor, Donald Sloan ran the show, and Luis Scola did everything else as the bench went on a quick 8-0 run. The ever intelligent Pacer fans, understanding how poorly Indy had played for weeks and realizing they were in desperate need of some momentum gave a raucous standing ovation, shouting their approval and encouragement for what they were seeing.
It’s rare where as fans, we actually feel that we have a part in swinging a game.
Tonight was one of those rarities. Enjoy it, Pacers fans.
The Good – The unselfish basketball. Indy had 27 assists on 34 baskets. What else needs to be said?
The Bad – Some would say the Lance Stepheson technical foul…but to be honest, I enjoyed it too much, I’m bringing the 90s back and saying that this “bad” really means “awesome.”
MVP – The Bench. The Five was great and the crowd was fantastic, but it’s hard to imagine this game ending the way it did without that beautiful 8-0 run to start the second quarter.
LVP – DJ Augustin. DJ went out of his way to beat the Pacers by himself tonight. Indy happily let him fail. Maybe it would have been good to get Jimmy Butler more than ONE shot in the fourth, eh DJ?
X Factor – The crowd. It bears repeating. No matter what Colin Cowherd says, Indy has some of the best fans in the league and they put on a wonderful show of emotion and support tonight.
Disagree? Shout at me at @Twitch8p9s on Twitter.
Tags: Indiana Pacers