May 18, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James is guarded by Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (24) in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Pacers Can't Let Game 1 Victory Get to Their Head

In Miami, it was Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals. The Pacers knew they had a shot to knock off the defending champions in their building. But they played like going home at that point was OK. They played as if the road ending there was fine for them. The Heat slapped the Pacers in Miami 99-76. The Heat rejoiced, the Pacers — with their heads hanging — walked back into the locker room defeated.

They had a shot to do something special, to shock the world, and they let it slip through their fingers. But maybe that was a good thing. Maybe leaving that sour taste in their mouth would motivate them. Maybe that series showed them they can beat the Heat, but they’ve got some growing up to do first.

Indiana approached the offseason positively, prepping themselves for another deep postseason run. But that was a long ways away. They still had training camp, preseason, and regular season to get through before they could get another shot at the Heat.

They went through all that, acquiring C.J. Watson, Luis Scola, Chris Copeland, and Evan Turner (mid-season) along the way. They started off the regular season 9-0, and then 16-1. They saw a superstar on the rise in Paul George, put up stellar stat lines every night. They then saw all that crumble down, and spiraled into a historic slump.

They saw Roy Hibbert go from All-Star center to laughingstock of the league. They saw fights between teammates at practice. They saw inconsistent play, uncharacteristic defensive outings. They said things to the media they shouldn’t have. They heard rumors.

They then saw the playoffs on the horizon. They saw the playoffs as a chance to turn things around and prove to everyone they could challenge the Heat for the Eastern Conference title and represent the conference in the Finals. Well, their vision must have been a bit blurry, because it took them longer than they hoped to knock off the worst team in the playoffs.

The first round saw Indiana and Atlanta square off, where the Pacers were the No. 1 seed and the Hawks were the only team in the playoffs with a sub-.500 record. Despite Indiana’s struggles, it seemed their approach and talent alone could get them past the Hawks with ease. That wasn’t necessarily the case.

The Hawks came out and took Game 1 and home-court advantage away from the Pacers, and the same questions about Indiana loomed. After going down 3-2, the Pacers won two straight games to take the first-round series. The questions still remained.

Then, it was on to the Wizards. Facing a more traditional team  looked to be a breath of fresh air for the Pacers. The semi-finals looked to be Hibbert’s series to turn it around, but posting zero points and zero rebounds in Game 1 was a bad sign already for the Big Dawg. Things turned around for Hibbert, and the Pacers all around who went on to beat the Wiz in 6.

Now, it’s time. The Eastern Conference Finals. Pacers vs. Heat. Again.

It wasn’t pretty, but Indiana made it back to where they wanted to be, in the position they wanted to be in. However, getting this series off to a bad start like the first two would’ve put the Pacers in a hole that would be much tougher to climb out of.

After dropping both the previous Game 1s at home, with Miami 8-1 in the playoffs coming into the game, it wasn’t looking good for Indiana. Although they have shown flashes of their old selves, they still don’t have anyone’s trust back as they win big and seem to lose big the following game. Indiana needed to win Game 1 to put themselves in a good position, and that’s just what they did.

Indiana didn’t just win Game 1, they played their best game of the playoffs to this point. They jumped out to a 7-0 lead to start the game and didn’t look back, never trailing throughout the game.

Winning Game 1 was big, but it’s just one game, as Frank Vogel said in the post-game presser. “It’s a good start to the series, but it’s just a good start. That’s all it is.”

Focus has been difficult for Indiana all season. They proved they can beat Miami in Game 1, but we all know the Heat can turn this thing around and get the momentum back in their favor. The Pacers have a real shot to knock off the champs here and now, but losing focus and composure at any point could ruin that and send them home packing once again.

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