Astonishingly, the Pacers still have a chance to ‘salvage’ this regular season by going on a roll over the last week of the season. (It’s not an accident that Frank Vogel is resting his starters against the Bucks, not the Heat.) Miami has played so inconsistently that they may well follow up last night’s Nets loss with another tonight against the Grizzlies then a third against the Pacers. At the moment, none of those three losses would constitute a shock. The Grizz and Pacers are big enough to have permanent matchup advantages in the paint and, with no Dwyane Wade, in most of the backcourts the Heat trot out. The Pacers might still capture the number one seed in the East.
That possibility misses the bigger point the Pacers (and their fans) have misunderstood all year long. Regular season primacy is not critical! The Pacers didn’t lose the Eastern Conference Finals on a last second shot or because of a controversial call. This wasn’t Hue Hollins giving Scottie Pippen the business back in the day. The Pacers got smoked!! I mean, David West left the court in a huff not just because he was mad but also because he was embarrassed.
The Heat were clearly better. Their epic second quarter would have overwhelmed the Pacers if the game were in Hinkle with Norman Dale patrolling the sidelines. Nothing about that Game 7 should indicate that the building was a critical factor.
During last year’s playoff run the Pacers did very well on the road and missed critical opportunities there. In the ECF, the Heat and Pacers alternated wins throughout. Game 1 was the infamous ‘Where’s Roy?’ game. That was the golden moment the Pacers missed; at the start of the series, not the end.
The Pacers didn’t have homecourt against the Knicks but they stole it by winning Game 1. Taking that edge against a veteran laden team brushed away the taste of the too long Atlanta series and gave the Pacers a real belief they could be special last year. That’s the key thing! The Pacers knew they could beat the Knicks. Then they went out and proved it.
Proving it is always the tough part. I’m convinced that the Pacers season long obsession with homecourt advantage was an act of collective denial. They wanted to be the best team in the East and wanted to make the Finals and wanted to prove that folks like me screaming ‘too soon, too soon’ were wrong. The Pacers wanted those things to be true but I’m not sure they ever believed them.
Being desperate to ensure a 7th game against Miami would be played in the Fieldhouse has sounded to many of us like a problem. At best, it’s a need based opportunity. The Pacers feel they need homecourt to have an opportunity against the Heat. Homecourt is an advantage not a determinant and the Pacers own shared experience means they understand that fact. Arguing that homecourt is critical only until March has come in like a lion and gone out like a Godzilla doesn’t fool anyone. It simply reminds us how odd this particular obsession has been.
All that being said, if this wacky season ends with the Pacers and Heat in a frantic race for the top spot, I will feel better about the playoffs. Not because of homecourt but because it would indicate the Pacers were actually playing well. Playing great basketball is the reason teams win titles, not their arenas and fans. Now is the perfect time to remember that.
© Gayle Force Press 2014
A friend of mine mentioned that since Roy Hibbert’s press
conference Saturday, he’s now rooting for the Heat. That started me thinking
about what Hibbert was actually aiming for in that presser.
I must admit that I've always been perplexed by "no
homo". That phrase is often used in ways that are totally nonsensical.
There’s an interesting Slate article
from a few years ago that describes some of the curious ways it functions in
rap music. For Hibbert to have used “no homo” seemed like acting out as part of
a broader attempt to be tough. The same is true of his calling the reports
"motherfuckers". They both sounded false coming from him. (It verges
on funny to watch Hibbert consider whether to actually say “motherfucker” or
not. I immediately had flashbacks to middle school.)
Let’s face it, Hibbert is just not a 'street' guy.
Particularly in Indiana in the decade long aftermath of the ‘Malice in the
Palace’, NOT being a street guy is part of why Mt. Hibbert is widely beloved. He’s
one of the faces of the Pacers franchise and in a world wherein Wilt
Chamberlain could believe, “Nobody loves Goliath,” Hibbert’s kindness, charity,
quick smile and obvious love for his family have made him an important
exception to the rule. We Hoosiers love our Goliath.
That’s part of what was so jarring about Saturday night. The
eyes of the nation are rarely on the Hoosier State where the NBA is concerned.
The Pacers have been the most important, positive surprise of the playoffs but
Saturday’s after game was a deeply unpleasant, unanticipated surprise. The
contrasts between the press conference and Hibbert’s immediate postgame
interview were shocking. It seems clear that Hibbert’s 'Happy Birthday Dad' hokum
was authentic. The badass wannabe posing he did on the dais wasn’t. Thank
Of course, it’s always hard to balance who you are and who
you are expected to be, isn’t it? I imagine that’s particularly true on big
stages with bright lights. I’m pleased that David Stern pulled some charity
cash out of Hibbert’s pockets. My hope is that Saturday night will serve as
another clear reminder that the world continues to change and we all need to change
along with it.