After pushing the eventual back to back NBA champions Miami Heat to a full 7 game series last year,there was a priority from the Indiana Pacers to claim the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference in the event another Miami-Indiana showdown were to happen. At worst the Pacers could take solace knowing it any Game 7 possibility would occur at the comfortable confines of Conseco Fieldhouse.
And they started the season with guns a-blazing. Even claiming the best record in basketball during the early parts of the season.
Then came March.
A 10-11 record. And no the bleeding didn’t just end there. April was just as troubling. But all seemed well after beating the Oklahoma City Thunder on National TV last Sunday and ultimately locking the 1 seed that they long vied for. From there everything seemed to be back to normal. The Pacers can hit the reset button and start their 2nd season.
Then Game 1 vs. the Atlanta Hawks happened.
They looked horrific. Uninspired. Sluggish. Almost uninterested. All against the 8 seeded Hawks who went 38-44 during the 2013-14 campaign.
And guess what? While I t’s only one game the Indiana Pacers are in serious trouble.
For all we know Indy can come out like gangbusters tonight, run off four straight wins and make us forget the dismal performance of Game 1, but clearly something is wrong in Indy. There is too big a sample size of bad play from them to be pardoned and given a benefit of the doubt. A sample size that runs nearly 2 months long.
Here’s my observation. The Pacers were too obsessed with beating the Miami Heat. And the Pacers are STILL obsessed with beating the Miami Heat. They are playing as though they are guaranteed a free pass into the Eastern Conference Finals. Clearly, for one night only, the Atlanta Hawks didn’t get that message. The lack of leadership on the team is also troubling. A lot of finger pointing most notably done publicly by as of struggling lately center Roy Hibbert
Here’s what even more concerning about this first round matchup with Atlanta. The Hawks, including Game 1 are 3-2 vs. Indiana this season. While it’s foolish to use the regular season as an totally accurate tool to correctly analyze a seven game series, clearly the Hawks have figured out with their “small ball” play and the emergence of Jeff Teague, they have accomplished two things: making an already Roy Hibbert irrelevant and exposing the average at best backcourt.
Indiana has to be in must win mode tonight. In fact the Pacers can’t just win Game 2, they need the statement game they were supposed to deliver during Game 1. If there were teams afraid of these Indiana Pacers, that’s no longer the case. It’s open season now on this team. A blowout in Game 2 may be in order. But man, if they don’t win Game 2 and they have to travel to Atlanta down 2-0 in the series…..if Pacer fans thought the critics were bad following Game 1. They will be relentless if they fail to deliver Game 2.
The time is now….or else……