Running Diary: Pacers improve to 7-0 with win over Nets

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Funny things seem to always happen to take away the focus from the Indiana Pacers. After the first-week of the season, the numbers that Paul George and Lance Stephenson put-up should have made them absolute shoe-ins to win the Eastern Conference Player of the Week Award. What happens? The Philadelphia 76ers defeat the Miami Heat, the Washington Wizards, and the Chicago Bulls, and rookie Michael Carter-Williams ends up sneaking away with the award.

So all eyes would be on the Pacers when they host the Chicago Bulls on national television, right? Well, despite the 97-80 victory over a team many believe could be the best in the Eastern Conference, the talking-heads the following day decided to spend their time talking about what a point-guard who had missed the entire season before was doing wrong just four games in.

How do the Pacers respond? They keep on winning of course! Friday night the Pacers tied a franchise-record best 6-0 start, dropping the Toronto Raptors by the final of 91-84 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Perhaps would they get everyone’s focus and attention at that point? Well, perhaps they would if the National Football League wasn’t so popular that one irrelevant player on an irrelevant team bullied another irrelevant player thus making that irrelevant player leave the irrelevant team, and this irrelevancy is the biggest-topic of the Monday-Friday news cycle.

But how about Saturday night, with the team getting the chance to travel to Brooklyn to improve to 7-0 with a victory? This would be the case, if a little Brad Stevens-magic (or #BradMagic as one Jeremiah Johnson likes to call it) didn’t take place in Miami, with the Boston Celtics dropping the Heat 111-110 on an impossible game-winning shot from Jeff Green. The cover of ESPN’s NBA page as follows:

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It’s okay Indiana Pacers, with a 96-91 victory over the Nets and a now historic start for the franchise, I’ve got your back.  I’m catching up on the DVR from the beginning of the second-half to take some notes in retro-diary form (with 100% of the idea’s credit going to Grantland’s Bill Simmons of course) to see how we in-fact got to this point. To start the third-quarter, Brooklyn would be leading the way 46-44, with the only difference between the two teams seemingly being the fact that Brooklyn’s bench outscored the Pacers’ bench 16-6. And we start… NOW!

11:47 – As David West breaks out to the right-corner of the free throw line thanks to a Roy Hibbert pick on Kevin Garnett that would make the Colts O-Line proud, I already can’t help but think to myself how weird it seems watching Garnett/Pierce these Nets uniforms. However, as a Lakers fan myself, am I happy to see two-former Celtics’ end their careers in such fashion? Absolutely! ANNNNYYYYTTTHHHHIIIINNNGGGG IIIISSSSS POSSSSSIIIIBBBBBLLLLLLLEEEEEE!!!! West hits the jumper to tie the game 46-46, because David West is just flat-out a bad man.

(Has anyone ever said it’s weird seeing Deron Williams in a Nets jersey? Anyone?)

9:11 – I don’t feel bad making fun of Deron Williams because: 1. Despite the fact he’s incredibly good, I’m not a big fan and 2. Roy Hibbert just scared the living daylights out of him as he drove towards the lane, causing him to stop and settle for an awkward floater instead of challenging number-55. I think my favorite thing about the uber-Roy Hibbert defense this year is trying to keep count of how many shots are missed not because he gets a hand on them, but rather how many shots he forces to be thrown up wildly just because he happens to be in the area. This leads to David West finding Lance Stephenson cutting through down-low for an and-one that causes Chris Denari to reach high-decibels on “STEPHENSON”, Pacers now up 55-49.

6:00 – I’m just going to call the Roy Hibbert stat I referenced above as “ROYS”. Hibbert just forced one on Brook Lopez, who tried to take Hibbert base-line and swing the ball up from under the hoop with his dribbling-hand, but Hibbert’s “verticality” forced Lopez to throw up a bad shot that went over the rim. I’m all-in on the “ROYS” stat, Pacers lead 60-53.

5:06 – Nets center Andre Blatche hits a jumper to make the score 62-57,  and Pacers’ announcer Chris Denari mentions that “Just like in Boston, Kevin Garnett has to come out early in the first and third quarters.” This reminded me of the Pacers pregame show I was listening too on 1070 The Fan when Austin Croshere mentioned that he doesn’t fully buy-in to this Brooklyn squad to be a top-seeded team. Basically Croshere believes that with the years of basketball mileage on their body, Garnett and Pierce could perhaps reach their full-potential if they played once every three games.  Throw in the fact that Pierce, Garnett, and Jason Terry combined for 8-23 from the field, 21 points, and nine turnovers, I now-wonder how Sports Illustrated picked this squad to be the number-three seed over the course of an 82-game season.

0:00 – Quarter ends with Joe Johnson getting guarded by Paul George on the corner, George hesitated and gave Johnson just a short-extra breath of space to breathe, and Johnson throws up a three that hits nothing but net at the buzzer. Not sure what more George could have done there, but Pacers take the lead 72-67 going into the quarter. On the offensive-end what probably stood out the least and had the most impact is Paul George’s sneaky 3-4 from the field  for nine points on the quarter. I think this is when you realize that somebody has taken the extra-leap from pretty good player to absolute All-Star, is when they use little-energy to hit a 10-footer, 20-footer, and three at 25-feet, and you don’t necessarily think twice about what is taking place.

11:40, 4th – Luis Scola moves to the top of the key to help on Nets guard Shaun Livingston, leaving Garnett completely open to grab the rebound in the air and slam it down for a dunk that shakes the Barclays Center. Maybe Garnett still has some life in those legs after all, 72-69 Pacers up.

11:15 – I told myself I was going to pace myself to only write something every three minutes… But Luis Scola just got Garnett with his patented “shot-fake, defender goes by, dribble a once or twice and then shoot” play that I’ve absolutely fallen in love with. Frank Vogel said it best after the victory against the Bulls, when he mentioned “We have one of the best international players ever coming off of our bench”. I think Pacers fans finally 100% realized what they now have in Scola when they booed Tyler Hansbrough during his first appearance with the Toronto Raptors on Friday night.

8:06 – I said this in my last post, but for me the signature-play of the Pacers undefeated start to the season is the killer Paul George-three that sucks the life out of the opposition, and then he slowly moves down the court with full-out swag that only a 23-year old soon to be superstar could possess. With three seconds left on the shot-clock off  an in-bounds play, George found Luis Scola cutting to the baseline. George then faked a cut pass the hoop, and instead wrapped around Scola (who’s placement set a pick on defender Paul Pierce) while George made his way beyond the arc. George hit the three, turned, tapped himself on the head with three-fingers up, and made his way down the court slowly as the Pacers lead 82-73. If that isn’t cool, I’m not sure what is.

6:00 – Paul Pierce is doing everything he can to keep this Brooklyn team in the game, but his teammates can’t help him out a lick. I would feel bad, but this is the same guy who tore up the Lakers in the NBA Finals after looking like this:

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5:47 – A graphic just flashed that Paul George is the first Indiana Pacer to start the season with seven-straight 20-plus point games since Clark Kellogg in the 1985-86 season. I would be very interested to know what the odds are of him winning an MVP-award before Andrew Luck does with the Colts.

3:12 – Brooklyn starts to come back, and with the Nets down 90-87, George Hill dribbles the ball from 20 seconds on the clock down to 13 and follows this up with a running-floater through the lane. If it goes in, Hill looks like a genius, but since he missed, I should point out that Brooklyn is fighting their way back into this game and Paul George hasn’t shot the ball since the 7:26 mark in the quarter.

2:31 – Paul George uses a Roy Hibbert pick on Paul Pierce to create some extra-space, he runs to his right, and throws up a shot falling-away from the basket that was much-longer than the 15-feet the shot chart says. Does it go in? Of course it does, and George finishes the night with 24 points on 8-14 shooting with six rebounds and two assists. This Pacers team has enough depth that Paul George doesn’t have to absolutely demand the ball in the fourth quarter (like perhaps Kobe would), but it definitely doesn’t hurt the team when he gives it a shot.

:38 – Mark that down as a “ROY”! Down 94-91, Joe Johnson literally found Kevin Garnett inside the restricted-circle and two feet away from the hoop. As Garnett caught the ball, Roy Hibbert came-over from the help side and went straight up, forcing Garnett to push-up a floater over Hibbert’s extended arm. The outcome? Complete air-ball, the rock eventually lands out of bounds, and Pacers get the ball. Game effectively over…. Or not, because Paul George just turned the ball over. This is probably why I’m not an NBA coach.

:9.5 – Joe Johnson misses the great-look for a three, David West gets the rebound ices the game with free throws, and now the game is over. Pacers fans, you are 7-0 for the first time in team history, go crazy!

Final thoughts are this game is much-more impressive when you take in account the Pacers played four-games in five-nights and won them all. This Brooklyn team is full of veterans and a win against Indiana would have given answered some of the doubters about what their franchise is doing this season, and you could sense the urgency in the second-half pouring from them. Still, this Indiana squad responded, and now they head into  Monday night’s home game against Memphis with a shot to go 8-0.

Personally, I’m just interested to see what whacky-event will happen on the national sports scene to continue covering up this great Pacers start if they were to come away with the victory.

Quick Hit

The Pacers had had leading contributors all the way down their starting line-up to go along with Paul George’s 24 points… Lance Stephenson finished with 15 points, seven assists… David West finished with 18 points and eight rebounds… Roy Hibbert had 15 points, 11 rebounds, and two blocks.