INDIANAPOLIS – The question may seem simple, but the responses require a bit of thought.
If you are an NBA team looking for 16 victories and a championship, the goal is to play as few games as possible to reach that victory plateau. Fewer games played mean less wear on player’s bodies which can play a factor when they’ve already played an 82-game regular season.
The Pacers didn’t exactly help themselves achieve that goal in the opening round as they faced elimination twice and had to go seven games with eighth-seeded Atlanta before finally beating them on Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Twenty-four hours after that win and 24-hours before their second round opener against the Wizards at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Monday, the Pacers were asked if there was any benefit to playing a longer series as opposed to getting some rest for what’s to come.
“You never know,” said head coach Frank Vogel when asked if playing seven games in the first round will help or hinder the team. “I think it works both ways in different situations.”
That was a common answer after the team’s practice on Sunday with players not quite sure how their difficult series with the Hawks will positively or negatively affect their run for the franchise’s first NBA title.
“It’s good, bad,” said guard George Hill. “It’s good because we’re coming off a win so you could say we’re rolling a little bit with two-in-a-row. But it’s bad because we don’t have a break and they’ve gotten a break.”
Who Hill speaks of are the Wizards, who made surprisingly quick work of a defensive-minded fourth-seeded Bulls team. Washington won the first two games of the series in Chicago and had just one slip up at home en route to a five-game opening round series victory.
But rest may be a bit overrated according to forward Paul George, who believes the slumping Pacers needed a wake up call early in the playoffs to get some of their early season momentum back.
“It’s almost a blessing that it was dragged out longer than it needed to be because we need to start playing well and we need to start getting our feet wet, start gaining confidence, gaining a rhythm” said George. “So it’s good that we were able to play a long series and we didn’t have to jump right into another series because, again, we’ve got to get our timing right and our rhythm back.”
History both supports and doesn’t support that thought. Since the NBA switched to a seven-game first round format, 14 teams have won an opening series that went seven games but only one has reached the finals and won a championship. That was the 2008 Boston Celtics who coincidentally beat the Atlanta Hawks in a seven-game series before they went onto the championship.
There is a bit of irony and positivity within the Pacers’ organization when it comes to a long first-round series and success. In 2000, the top-seeded Pacers were pushed to a deciding Game 5 in their first round series against the Bucks and were able to sneak out a close victory to advance.
After that, the Pacers won their next two series to advance to the franchise’s only NBA Finals.
“Our guys feel good,” said Lance Stephenson of the tough first-round series with the Hawks. “I just feel like it was a challenge and we stood up to it.”
Now they’ll have to see if they can stand up again after a long series.