The Pacers, a 12-1 start, and symbolism in sports

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If there is ever one thing that I could take away from Mrs. Cory’s Brit Lit, AP English, and Senior Composition courses from my senior year at Hobart High School (yes, I am a Brickie), it would be her constant drilling to deeply read an occurrence and find the deeper meaning. Almost every great work of literature, film, play, and poetry drop hints of what the author of that piece of media is trying to say or is eventually going to do. This represents anything from The Pardoner in “The Canterbury Tales” having beady eyes (automatically showing he’s deceitful) straight down all the way down to the fact that building a baseball field really symbolized Ray Kinsella’s long-lost hope to play catch with his father just one more time. In the end, the idea of reading deeper into symbols, themes, and motifs is something that my favorite teacher had drilled endlessly into our heads to make us smarter and lose the mantra that “We Be Hobart” by time we finished school.

Of course, you maybe sitting their wondering what does that have to do anything with sports or the Indiana Pacers? Well, good question.

What I do know is that Saturday night I showed up to the Indiana Pacers contest with the Philadelphia 76ers as the third quarter was coming to an end. For good reason of course had I missed the majority of the game, as I had covered the in-state rivalry between the Ball State Cardinals and the Butler Bulldogs earlier in the afternoon. And as I sat down in my spot among the photographers, Pacers soon to be super-duperstar Paul George hit a jump shot to put Indiana up 77-66 to end the third quarter. All was good for Indiana, or at least it seemed that way before Philadelphia’s young, chippy, and athletic roster went on a 12-3 run to bring them within one thanks to a incredibly sub-par performance from a bench that looked to coast to victory.

At the 8:56 mark, Pacers Head Coach Frank Vogel apparently had enough of the second-unit floundering away a potential victory, yanking Chris Copeland and Orlando Johnson and subbing in Paul George and Roy Hibbert back into the contest. Simple move by a smart coach to put an end to a team making a run, correct? Well it still takes players making great plays to make this occurrence a possible outcome, and perhaps this was going to take place anyways if Paul George and Roy Hibbert were subbed into the game a minute apart.

But in the beautiful world of sports, where legends are made and myths of what could be true/what isn’t true are engrained into our minds every single day as fact, as fans we want and need specific moments to stick out over the course of an 82-game season.

Even just twelve games into the 2013-14 year in the Association, I would sum up the Pacers start before Saturday in the following instances: Paul George’s back-breaking three and slow-motion celebration against the Bulls; the Pacers joyous celebration when Lance Stephenson got his first-career triple-double against Memphis; any monstrous Roy Hibbert-block where he is clearly trying to send a message that he’s still peeved off he wasn’t a serious candidate for Defensive MVP last season;  Paul George’s mega-fourth quarter/overtime to give him 35 points at Madison Square Garden; and the incredible-interview the five starters did with ESPN where the team told the world they truly believe they can be the best team in the league.

On Saturday night, when Roy Hibbert and Paul George walked over to their respective positions down on the block as 76ers guard Michael-Carter Williams went to shoot a free-throw, the two-players’ body-language couldn’t have been any more clear. They were upset that the contest had come to this point, where the level of fun had lowered as the level of seriousness rose. That Bankers Life Fieldhouse had gone from completely rocking to silent, that this game had actually become a real-contest once again. But as All-Stars, and what good players on teams that turn out to be great do, they were going to take this and turn it into one-hundred percent channel it into a way they could rip this game away from the 76ers hands before it was too lost and spinning out of control. They didn’t have to say it out-loud for this to be known.

Instead, without saying a single word, Paul George turned to Roy Hibbert nodding his head up and down. George stuck out his fist to Hibbert, who somehow met him past halfway despite the fact George started the fist-bump. Hibbert then started to nod his head as well. It was a moment the television cameras didn’t catch, that you could have only been there to see, and honestly if you weren’t staring right at it, probably wouldn’t have noticed. But in a sport where high-fives are given for being introduced in the starting line-up, for sitting down on the bench, and even missing your free-throw, there are probably at-least one-hundred high fives/fist bumps a night. However this one that George and Hibbert had, it seemed vicious, it seemed like it had a message, and it had me thinking “Woah… There is no way they are going to lose this game!”

What happened next? The combination of George/Hibbert scored the team’s next thirteen points, gathered four-rebounds and played stellar-defense that put the Pacers up 93-86 in a four-minute span. The other starters in George Hill (11 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists), Lance Stephenson (18 points, 5 rebounds), and David West (17 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists) obviously played huge contributing roles throughout the entire game, but in this sense of the game Paul George (19 points, 3 rebounds) and Roy Hibbert (27 points, 13 rebounds, 6 blocks) ultimately willed this team to a 106-98 victory.

I wondered to myself after the game if I truly had seen something quite out of the ordinary, one of those special-moments between two teammates who have officially risen pass the cusp of greatness, and are so confident in their team’s abilities that they finally have it figured out as to how they will find that inner-fortitude to pull off victories in any circumstance. So when I spoke up to Paul George after the game, who no matter takes in every question you can ask and gives the best-possible answer he can,  I started to feel pretty good when he was nodding his head up and down as I described the scene. George had this to say: “We are a confident group. I’m confident in our starting-five, our bench, and we are all on the same page.  When we subbed in, we did talk about taking over this game and putting this game away. Because they are a dangerous team, and they made this a lot tougher in the ending.”

Boom. Right there, right then, I knew I had witnessed a moment. And for a total of two-minutes, I felt like I had found what I would carry in my-mind as the true symbol of what this 12-1 Pacers team was all about. Because as David Halberstam once wrote in “Playing for Keeps”, the most-impressive thing about those Michael Jordan Bulls teams wasn’t how they stepped-up for the showcased contests on national television, but rather how they found that motivation to pull off the wins in hopeless situations against under-performing squads that were hard to be motivated for. In my mind Paul George and Roy Hibbert had shown they finally have that, which is a key-component that perhaps last year’s squad had shown they couldn’t carry over a whole 82-game season.

I felt this way, until I asked center Roy Hibbert about the occurrence. Perhaps about three-fourths of the way through my question, a confused Hibbert just said “We do that all the time, so I’m not exactly sure what play that was,” said Hibbert. “But we are always together, we are connected, like one. So there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to win this game, because we had played together for awhile and we know what to do.”

So what could I take away from this? Well, perhaps I read too far into it, as in way, way way, way way way too far into it, and that fist-bump perhaps no longer needs to be included in the greatest Pacers moments of all-time DVD collection. In fact, it really was just like all of those other ninety-nine fist bumps handed out on Saturday night.

However, none of that changes Hibbert’s and George’s ability to take over the game in the fourth quarter and continue to lead this franchise to their best start in history of the organization. None of that changes that the Pacers continue to have the best record in the Eastern Conference, that a sold-out Bankers Life Fieldhouse was left-giving the team a standing ovation, and that this Indiana squad is going to have many more moments like this throughout what is shaping up to be an incredible year as long as the starters stay healthy. None of that changes, in all, that perhaps this Pacers team does have what it takes to be great.

And when all of that continues to happen, just know, I’ll be right there trying find the symbolic moments of it all and trying to figure out what they all mean on a different-level. Because well, that’s just how Mrs. Cory taught me.

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