INDIANAPOLIS– All my life I’ve heard coaches ramble on about the “stats they don’t record are the stats that matter most” referring to “hustle stats” and pivotal moments in games that cannot be defined by a number or average.
The Indiana Pacers haven’t recorded many of those “hustle stats” nor have they had many positive, pivotal moments over the last few weeks—beating the Miami Heat last Wednesday was fool’s gold, folks—and even in Wednesday night’s 101-94 victory over the lowly Detroit Pistons, those moments and those “hustle stats” were few-and-far between.
But much like those moments and stats you can’t jot down, or record, something happened over the last 48 hours you can’t define by words or cliche explanations like “I guess you just had to be there”. While nobody would comment on exactly what, or, when it was, it was blatantly obvious: the Pacers have bought into something.
That car they were driving right at the guard rail, destined to fly off the cliff, has locked its breaks and pulled a U-turn as if somebody in that vehicle said something worth everyone’s while.
The Pacers know as well as any level-headed fan should, there wasn’t much on-court Wednesday night that promised enough to suggest the Pacers are steamrolling for the NBA Finals. Sure, Paul George appears to have found the path he needs to follow the rest of the season scoring 27 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and seven assists. It was George’s 11th double-double of the season.
But winning by seven points against Detroit, a team that lost to the Philadelphia 76ers last Saturday, yeah, there is still a ways to go, fellas.
But off the court, inside a locker room that felt more like a morgue Monday night, there was a positive atmosphere founded on one buzz-word that shouted “don’t write us off just yet” loud-and-clear; togetherness.
“It was fun. This was the one game in a while, the most that we felt together in a while,” George said. “At no point did we feel like we were going to lose. A couple nights ago we would have lost this game. This was the most we felt together, though, everybody was positive. Everybody was on the same page. If someone messed a play up we were able to constructively criticize what went wrong. We were able to have a great talk yesterday as a team and build each other back up. It was a great vibe tonight. How we started this year is how we felt tonight.”
After 15 first quarter points for Detroit’s Josh Smith, I imagine there was some constructive criticism directed towards George and David West. Smith only scored nine more points the rest of the game, ultimately reverting to shouting at his teammates during frustrating walks to the bench during timeouts. To the Pacers credit, the game would have likely been a double-digit victory if the Pistons weren’t hitting so many pick-up-game-type-shots. The pull up threes that kept Detroit between one and five points late were rogue at best for a team barely shooting over 30 percent on the season beyond the arch.
This was the type of game, though, that the Pacers needed against the San Antonio Spurs, the kind of game that, even in a loss, there was a sense that things were heading in the right direction. Frank Vogel has been criticized for not getting under anyone’s skin enough to motivate the players. While we don’t see what the atmosphere in practice has been, its seemed obvious that there hasn’t been enough fire from Vogel—I’ve been one of those critics.
However, even without Bob-Knight-theatrics its evident; that “something” I talked about the players buying into isn’t a false sense of reality, but rather a messaged reinforced by repetition. Vogel has to pick a stance and stick to it. His voice cannot waiver. It starts with what the head coach is pumping into his player’s ears. The Pacers had to commit to his idea, his vision and the process with a passion or the fray was going to come unraveled even further.
“I thought we were playing the right way. I keep stressing to these guys, play the right way, work your tail off on defense, create shots for each other on offense and the results will come,” Vogel said. “It was a step in the right direction. I don’t think you go from where we were struggling to being dominant overnight.”
While a win on Wednesday night was a pretty good place to start, Indiana could do themselves tremendous favors if they continued this togetherness and treated each game like a playoff game until the end of the regular season. And while its coated with blatant signs of back-pedaling, its not a gimmick or a front; the Pacers are worried about winning, one seed or not.
While much of it may have been different if they had not fallen off this severely, the newly discovered thought process heading into the playoffs isn’t a revelation and its not like Indiana can’t win playoff games on the road.
“Everybody comes into a season with goals. That was one of our goals, to get the first seed in the East. Regardless, we’re going to have to play on the opponent’s floor no matter what. Now we’re kind of at ease about the whole situation,” George said.
Emptying The Notebook
The Pacers scored 100 points for the first time in 10 games
Indiana broke a franchise-long streak of six games shooting under 40 percent from the field
The Pacers record 24 assists Wednesday night. They are 35-4 when recording 20 or more assists
All five starters scored in double figures. It was the 15th time this season putting Indiana at 13-2 when this occurs.
GeorgeHill scored in double-digits for the first time in five games (12 points)
Corey Elliot is a Senior Writer at the Indy Sports Report and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association recognized as an accredited member of the media by the Pacers and has full media access. Follow Coreyand the ISRon Twitter
Corey Elliot is a Beat Writer at the Indiana Sports Report and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association. He is recognized as accredited member of the media by the Pacers and has full media access.
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