INDIANAPOLIS – Pundits believed this could be the next-and perhaps best-team to try and knock the Heat off the top of the Eastern Conference.
No, not the Pacers.
With additions like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce added to an already talented roster featuring Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, it appeared the Nets might be the team to compete with Indiana to get a shot at the Heat.
Fast forward a few months later and you have the following scene at the end of the game. Roy Hibbert walked calmly towards center court to have a conversation with Nets forward Reggie Evans, whom he had heated words a few moments earlier that drew the center a technical foul.
No shoves were exchange but words got a little heated before players on both sides got between the pair and they went their separate ways.
“They can do whatever they want to do, we’ve seen it all before,” said Hibbert when asked if the Nets were doing more “chatty” than usual on Saturday night, declining to speak specifically about the Evans talk. “But we got the win.”
For a third time over this contender, in fact, in a still young 2013-2014 NBA season.
As it was on Monday night, Indiana dominated Brooklyn at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, this time beating them 105-91 on Saturday night. Five nights earlier the Pacers defeated the Nets by 17 at the Barclays Center and won at that venue earlier in the season during their 9-0 start to the season.
“It’s tough to beat a team three times in a short period of time,” admitted Pacers head coach Frank Vogel after the game. “I was proud of our guys for gutting it out.”
Indeed that’s one major reason the Pacers were able to pull the hat trick against the Nets on Saturday night. Indiana dominated the glass with a 41-28 advantage as an aggressive push by Brooklyn did little to shake the Pacers’ interior players.
When asked about the team’s strong performances against the Nets, many didn’t point to a match-up that works in the Pacers advantage but rather the team’s commitment to defense. On Saturday, the Pacers held the Nets to just 35 points in the second half on 41 percent shooting.
“Our defense has been traveling and has been here at home,” said point guard George Hill, who contributed on the offensive end with 21 points. “We continue to play the best defense we can possibly play so in the third quarter and the fourth quarter we’ve really buckled down and made them uncomfortable.”
Another thing that Paul George believes the Pacers do against the Nets to make them feel that way is their transition offense. In that category in the second half the Pacers outscored the Nets 8-0, a key component of a half in which Indiana outscored Brooklyn by 12 points.
“With a team like this you’ve got to get up and run them,” said George, who got two of his game-high 24 points on a breakaway slam in the fourth quarter. “You’ve got to play and up-tempo game and let them use their legs and run them a little bit.
“I think that’s what we did tonight and I think that’s what Lance (Stephenson) showed a lot of flashes of running and creating breaks for us.”
While not at the career-high level he did on Monday night against the Nets, Stephenson once again proved difficult to stop as he shot 7-of-11 from the floor in scoring 23 points. He narrowly missed another triple-double as he finished with nine rebounds and seven assists.
“I’m feeling comfortable out there and having fun,” said Stephenson of his play the last week. “We had to let the game come to us in the third quarter and play aggressive defense.”
It produced a familiar result for the Pacers against a contender whose not looking the part as 2013 comes to a close.