Are The Pacers in Danger?
I can’t believe I’m asking this. But are The Pacers in danger of losing to a team that really shouldn’t even be in the post-season? Sure, Indiana looked vulnerable at times in the regular season (especially after the Granger deal), but Atlanta’s record was 38-44 this season. The fact they made the playoffs led to many people (myself included) to call for a reform in the playoff system. And for Indiana to look this bad against a mediocre (and awful for playoff standards) is shocking.
But to address the question that I posed before: Yes. The Hawks pose a legitimate threat to ending Indiana’s championship aspirations really early here. And no, that is not a knee-jerk reaction. Let me be honest with you guys, I didn’t even watch the game live. I woke up at 2:30 AM to catch the Nets and Raptors game, then stayed up for the Warriors vs. Clippers (which I’ll get to in a minute), then during the Hawks and Pacers game, I went drove down to the casino to watch the Grizzlies and Thunder play with some mates. When I saw the score, I was taken aback but not totally concerned.
And then I watched the game, and all I could say was wow. I saw Jeff Teague playing like he was the league’s MVP. I saw Kyle Korver swatting (not blocking, but fly swatting) Roy Hibbert. I saw David West completely no-show.
I honestly thought I was still drunk.
It got me thinking, what can The Pacers do to get back into this series? I was at a loss. The only thing they can really save them is Atlanta is a pretty bad team. And that’s what makes this so surprising. It really has nothing to do with an 8 seed dominating a 1 seed, because we’ve seen that happen a few times over recent years. When Golden State beat Dallas, as jaw dropping as that was, Golden State proved they were actually a really good team. It was the same thing with Memphis when they knocked off San Antonio. In 1999, The Knicks beat Miami in the first round and ended up going all the way to the finals.
But this Atlanta team is really bad, and for Indiana to lose a game like this to them at home in the playoffs after they sleep-walked their way through the last month of the season is potentially catastrophic for their quest for a championship. Talent-wise, this series shouldn’t be close at all. But mentally, Indy looks like they’ve completely checked out. That makes me think that either a) they’ve lost all respect for their coach or b) the locker room has become so toxic that they couldn’t care less about winning anymore and want the season to be over with, or c) both.
And unfortunately, I don’t think they can fix those problems in the middle of the series. The only way they can get out of this dilemma is if Atlanta is bad enough to not capitalise on this opportunity (entirely possible). But hopefully franchises will start to realise the importance of certain players like Danny Granger and how they actually hold teams together. If you want another example of that, just look at the Knicks this season without Jason Kidd’s or Rasheed Wallace’s leadership, and how quickly that all fell apart.
Game 1, Atlanta put Indiana on the ropes. Game 2 could be the knockout punch. Or… it could be the wakeup call they desperately needed. Remember in 1993 when The Lakers went up 2-0 on the Barkley-led Suns? Phoenix rallied back and won the series before going all the way to the finals before being beaten by Chicago. Is that possible? I guess. But I’m not counting on it. That Suns team had veterans such as Barkley, K.J., Chambers, Dan Majerle and Danny Ainge. The only respectable vet who seems to appreciate where The Pacers are at right now seems to be David West. They’re at the crossroads, so let’s see what direction they take. But if they do implode, what a cruel twist of fate that would be for not just Pacer fans, but basketball fans in general who were looking forward to a Pacer/ Heat bloodbath in the conference finals.
The other headline today was the Golden State win over the Clippers. Chris Paul had a great game, but missed was vilified for missing two critical free throws at the end of the game, which was unfortunate because nearly all the blame should have been placed on the shoulders of Blake Griffin. Seriously, how does this guy continue to get a pass from the media and the fans? He flops as bad as anyone else in the league, consistently plays like a punk in the playoffs (today included, where he didn’t even play 20 minutes due to idiotic fouls that he picked up) and then tops it all off by dumping water on a fan at courtside.
No, I’m not making that last one up:
Remember a similar instance instigated the Brawl in Detroit with Ron Artest and Indiana vs. Pistons’ fans in 2005 (although in that case, it was a fan throwing a beer at Artest, not the other way around). Griffin sulked all the way to that specific spot where the Warriors fan was, stopped, then conveniently dumped water over his shoulder hitting that fan. There are too many circumstances for this to be just a coincidence. He knew exactly what he was doing. Now does he deserve a suspension? Of course not. But the way he was defended by the media was a joke. Kobe was chewed out for saying “faggot” on the bench a few years ago and fined $100,000 by the league. This was (albeit trivial) a physical assault by Griffin on a fan, and if the NBA is worried about its image, they probably should take a closer look at that and not laugh it off.
It was a crazy opening day of the NBA playoffs, and the rollercoaster ride has just begun. I love this time of year.