Let's not get carried away with the Pacers.
To make an appearance in the NBA Finals, teams are usually graced with some form of 'great.' A great coach. Great player(s). Great team. Great defense. Et al. That word, however, doesn’t befit one team suddenly thrust into Finals contention this postseason.
The Indiana Pacers, now up 2-1 on an undermanned and imploding Miami Heat, are tantalizingly close to earning a spot in the conference finals. Beyond that lies the admiration that comes with a Finals berth, admiration that will no doubt result in this current Pacer squad being referred to as "great" by generations that follow. Yet, no matter how far their postseason journey continues, nothing will change the fact Indiana lacks any grandiose qualities.
Sure, Frank Vogel's players compete. They run good actions on offense and their defensive rotations are far from being confused with a Chinese fire drill. Their roster unquestionably has talent and depth, evidenced by the fact that Indy can play nine guys with nary a PER (player efficiency rating) catastrophe (something their current opponent longs for). They even finished the regular season ranked 8th in offensive efficiency and 10th defensively. Good marks, but spots in which the most apt adjective to describe them is probably south of "great."
Then there's the interesting fact that 27 of Indy's 42 wins came against teams below .500 during the regular season. That 27-4 mark against the league's doormats was tops in the league. Don't get me wrong, it's definitely a 'good' sign when you beat teams you should, but taking advantage of the hapless hardly makes one elite.
The sign of a great team? Beating other good ones consistently. The Pacers, however, went 15-20 against teams above the breakeven point. Compare that to two teams filled with all kinds of great, the Spurs and the Thunder, who combined to thrash teams north of .500 to the tune of 58-26 record. (An outlandish .069 winning percentage that one may even dare refer to as '
Indiana's application for greatness doesn't just fall short there either. One of the most telling indicators of true team strength, point differential, saw Indy finish 5th ... in the East. They trailed Miami, Chicago, Atlanta and Philadelphia and barely placed ahead of a schizophrenic New York team. That led to a playoff seed and the point in this narrative where we introduce how 'Luck' met 'Good.'
Other team's injuries are clearly something out of the Pacers' control, but they gave Indiana a major boost this past season. Atlanta saw everyone's favorite Horford tear his pec. New York found, then lost, Jeremy Lin. Down in Orlando, Dwight Howard ironically hurt his back during a season in which he was accused of running around stabbing others in the same area. Indiana, meanwhile, saw George Hill miss a small slate of games but mainly enjoyed pristine health. Those factors all contributed, in varying degrees, to how Indy's regular season finished up with third seed and home-court advantage in Round One.
The playoffs, however, is where the injury misfortune of others really fueled Indiana’s hopes. Howard's back surgery not only caused the Magic to tumble out of the top four, but land opposite the Pacers in the playoff bracket. Orlando, despite some feisty performances, was far from ever being a serious threat to knock Indiana out of the playoffs. That semi-bye brought them to their current match-up against the Heat in Round Two rather stress free.
This current series had the Pacers largely left for dead until the now infamous Bosh injury midway through Game 1. That injury has left a rather ordinary Miami team behind, one facing a possibly 3-1 deficit should the Pacers take care of business one more time on their home floor Saturday night. Should Indy get the job done and advance, their opponent in the conference finals will also be at the benefit of other's injury misfortune.
Awaiting them on the doorstep of the Finals is either a lowly eighth seed or a walking M.A.S.H. unit that has four key rotation members subsisting on BenGay and duct tape to get them through games. Both Boston and Philadelphia are even given their opportunity thanks to a superior Bulls team bowing out, due in large part, to Derrick Rose's ACL tear. Had Rose (or even Joakim Noah) stayed healthy, Chicago’s presence would be hovering over Indiana like a dark cloud on a sunny day.
Now, don’t go interrupting this attempt at providing context as some vindictive, anti-Pacer rant. As far as this writer is concerned, who wins and who loses is inconsequential. I, like most without a horse in the race, just want to be entertained. So the Pacers could ride this streak of fortuitous breaks all the way to a championship and unless it comes with a bunch of boring basketball, it will have no ill-effect on me. In fact, for fans of Indiana Pacer basketball, I will think it's great. I just won't ever be calling their team that.
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