History is Against the Indiana Pacers Upsetting the Cleveland Cavaliers

Apr 15, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) dribbles against Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) in the fourth quarter in game one of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 15, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) dribbles against Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) in the fourth quarter in game one of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /

The Indiana Pacers would only be the sixth team in NBA history to upset a second seed as the 7th seed if they find a way to rally back and win the series.

They are already down one game, but what are the chances the second seeded Cleveland Cavaliers team gets upset by the Indiana Pacers?

Let’s take a look back in NBA history.

There have been 36 matchups between two and seven seeds since 1984, the year the NBA expanded to eight playoff teams in each conference. Over that span, seven seeds have gone 5-61. The Pacers will be looking to do the improbable in 2017, not only against the defending champs, but against one of the greatest basketball players to ever lace (or Velcro?) up his sneakers.

But what did those five upsets have in common? (A random Indiana Pacers connection.)

Is there a tried and true playoff recipe for the Pacers to follow? (Perhaps.)

Let’s look at each of the seven-over-two upsets in playoff history to see if Paul George and the Indiana Pacers have any prayer of pulling this off.

Sonics over Mavericks in 1987 (5-game series)

The 1987 Dallas Mavericks rode the league’s fourth best offense into the playoffs where they were promptly bounced in four games by the Seattle Supersonics. The Sonics sported the league’s fifth best offense themselves, run by none other than rookie [and future Pacers coach] Nate McMillan who averaged nearly 8 assists per game in the series.

Ultimately, the Mavericks’ defense did them in. After opening the series with a 151-129 route of the Sonics, Seattle scored 118 points per game the rest of the way to win the series in four games. Dale Ellis averaged 30, 8, and 4 for Seattle and Tom Chambers chipped in 25 and 5 while hold Mark Aguirre to six points below his season average. The red-hot Sonics went on to beat Hakeem’s Houston Rockets in the next round too before getting swept out of the playoffs by some guy named Magic.

Warriors swept the Jazz in 1989 (5-game series)

Two years later, Karl Malone led the Utah Jazz and the league’s best offense into the playoffs, hoping to challenge Magic Johnson’s Western Conference reign.

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Unfortunately, [future Pacer] Chris Mullin and Mitch Richmond had other plans. Malone and Stockton combined for 58 points, 19 rebounds, and 15 assists per game in the series, but the Warriors swept them anyway.

Mullin (33 ppg), Richmond (26), and Terry Teagle (19) all significantly increased their season scoring averages (from 26, 22, and 15 respectively), and the Warriors averaged more than 110 points per game against the league’s best defense. With such great shooters, you might have assumed that the Warriors killed Utah from behind the arc, but incredibly, Golden State only made ten threes…in the entire series. 1989 was something else. Just ask Taylor Swift.

Warriors over Spurs in 1991 (5-game series)

In 1991, second year man-child David Robinson led the Spurs to 53 wins and the 2-seed in the Western Conference. Once again, the Golden State Warriors would send the second seed home, this time on the back of the famous Run-TMC trio of [future Pacer] Chris Mullin, [future Pacer] Tim Hardaway, and Mitch Richmond. After winning Game 1 in San Antonio, the Spurs succumbed to second ranked offense in the league in three straight games. Once again, an elite offense caught fire at the right time and upset the two-seed for the third time in five years.

Knicks over Heat in 1998 (5-game series)

In 1998, the Ewing-less Knicks battled against the rival Miami Heat in a first round brawl for the ages. The 35-year-old Ewing missed most of the season with a leg injury, and the Knicks rebuilt on the fly around Allan Houston, Larry Johnson, Jeff Van Gundy, and grit. Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson were suspended for Game 5 after trading punches with 1.4 seconds left in Game 4, and the Knicks went on to upset the Heat in Miami. The next year, this same Knicks team would somehow knock off the top-seeded Heat before getting bailed out by one of the single worst officiating moments in the history of the world [against the Indiana Pacers] on their way to the NBA Finals.

Spurs over Mavericks in 2010

Eleven years later, the 7-seed Spurs upset the Dallas Mavericks. 2010 was a very weird year out West, as the Spurs only finished the season with five fewer wins than the Mavericks. Duncan, Parker, Manu, and [future Pacer] George Hill outdueled Dirk (27 points and 8 rebounds while shooting an absurd 55/57/95 for the series) and [former Pacers coach] Rick Carlisle in our only seven-over-two upset from a 7-game series.

So, what did each of these upsets have in common [besides the bizarre and totally contrived ties to the Indiana Pacers], and how did Indiana do in Game 1?

  1. The superstars were SUPERSTARRRRZZZZZ.
  2. The secondary stars overachieved.
  3. They shot their shot.

The superstars were SUPERSTARRRRZZZZZ.

In 1987, Dale Ellis outplayed Mark Aguirre; in 1989 and 1991, Chris Mullin outdueled Karl Malone and David Robinson; in 1998, Allan Houston got the better of Alonzo Mourning; and in 2010, the Spurs Big 3 united to form a balanced attack that offset Dirk Nowitzki’s theatrics. If the Pacers want to have any shot at beating the Cleveland Cavs, Paul George has to be PAWL JORJ!!!! The good news for Indiana is that since March 1, Paul George has been PAWL JORJ!!!! on an almost nightly basis.

In Game 1, Paul George held up his end of the bargain, playing the greatest player in the world to a draw. PG had 29 points on 19 shots while defending LeBron James at the start of every possession (of course, these possessions typically ended with Jeff Teague switching onto LeBron and then…but I digress). He also chipped in seven assists and pulled down five rebounds. George rimmed out a few tough jumpers in the fourth that might have tipped the scales in Indiana’s favor, but he single-handedly kept the Pacers in the game during the 3rd Quarter while also hitting the biggest shot of the game – a 27-foot pull-up triple over the top of a double team – with less than a minute to go. Quite simply, Paul George played well enough for the Pacers to win Game 1; he’ll need to play at least four more games at that level in order for Indiana to have a shot.

The secondary stars overachieved

In each of the five upsets, the winners’ “second and third bananas” outplayed their regular production.

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For the 2017 Pacers, that means that Myles Turner, Jeff Teague, and Lance Stephenson (to say nothing of Thad Young and C.J. Miles) all need to have four quality games – preferably all at the same time in the same games that Paul George goes full PAWL JORJ!!!!

Turner, Teague, and Young were just fine in Game 1. They weren’t bad, but they didn’t overachieve, and that might have been the difference between winning and losing. Lance Stephenson played about as well as could be expected, and provided a spark in the fourth quarter when it looked like the Cavs might run away and hide. But C.J. Miles was in foul trouble all night and really underperformed. If the Pacers hope to have any semblance of a chance at knocking off the King, “just fine” is not going to cut it for their supporting cast.

They shot their shot

If you aren’t familiar with Shea Serrano and shooting your shot, this is basically the 2017 version of “dance with who brung ya” (shout out to my dad, Brian Washburn, for sharing that quip every single time you and I watched our team choke in the final moments of a huge game).

The Warriors and Sonics were elite offensive teams, and they simply outscored the Jazz, Spurs, and Mavericks. The Knicks were tougher than you, and they fought, brawled, and punched their way past the 1998 Miami Heat. The 2010 out-Popped Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks.

The Cavs defense is just porous enough and their chemistry is just fragile enough that a Pacers team that is firing on all cylinders might be able to squeak out the series.

This presents a problem to the 2017 Indiana Pacers, because as of April 15, we are still unsure of what their identity is supposed to be. Best case scenario: Lance Stephenson returned three weeks ago, put his fingerprints on the team, and the Pacers have now morphed into a carefree, fun-loving unit that will ride its superstar as far as he can take them.

The Cavs defense is just porous enough and their chemistry is just fragile enough that a Pacers team that is firing on all cylinders might be able to squeak out the series. The Pacers probably played this card well enough in Game 1 to get out of Cleveland with a win, but their supporting cast just wasn’t quite good enough.

In the end, it still might not be enough. LeBron James has never lost a first round playoff series. He’s only lost to a lower-seeded team twice in his career (in 2009 and 2010 to the Magic and Celtics). Paul George just might be the second best player in the East, and he might present the biggest individual challenge to LeBron in the Conference.

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But unless the cards all break just right, PG will probably come up short once again.