For the last three or so months, it feels like we’ve been watching this Pacers team slowly fall apart, like watching a house of cards shake and wobble, waiting for the inevitable collapse. After a torrid 40-12 start to the season, the Pacers played to a 16-14 record after the All-star break, solid but clearly not the same.
Surely as the top seeded team in the East they should have breezed through the Atlanta Hawks right? The Hawks did everything they could possibly do to surrender that last spot to the Knicks, who politely declined. Hawks GM Danny Ferry even said “We’re not focused on trying to be the eighth seed in the playoffs because that’s not our goal.” Yet somehow the Pacers, who forgot how to play team basketball as if the Monstars came and sucked away all their talent, allowed the Hawks to make it a 7 game series, before the Pacers finally put them away.
This second round series vs. Washington will not be any easier. After the Wizards took game one in Indianapolis, there was a media firestorm around the Pacers, specifically on Center Roy Hibbert, and deservedly so. I mean seriously, how is it possible to be a 7’2 all-star center and contribute ZERO points and rebounds in 18 minutes with 5 fouls? This after scoring 37 TOTAL points in a 7 game series. You’d have to try to play that badly, and Hibbert has been doing it for weeks (since he called his teammates out for being selfish). But last night the unexpected happened, and Hibbert was terrific. Twenty-eight points on 10-13 shooting, including 5 early points that set Twitter sarcastically abuzz. The young Wizards held on tight, only to lose after David West’s late free throws and Hibbert’s game-sealing rebound.
So are the Pacers back? Have they righted the ship in time to take down these feisty Wizards? It’s too early to tell, as the Pacers simply could not lose Game 2 at home, and head to what will surely be a raucous crowd in DC. What last night did prove, however, is that the Pacers will only go as far as their big man takes them. If these Pacers want to combat the youth and athleticism of the Wizards, they need to pound the ball inside over and over again. Whatever the Pacers did to spark some life back into Hibbert, they need to keep doing it. Their season depends on it.