Tonight, in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Pacers have nothing but opportunities.
Leading the Orlando Magic 3-1 in their best of seven first round series, the most obvious of these opportunities is to advance to the second round. For the Pacers, it is the opportunity to win a playoff series for the first time since seven years ago yesterday, when Reggie Miller’s last team knocked off the Celtics in the first round of 2005 NBA Playoffs.
For several key Pacer players, it marks the opportunity to go somewhere they’ve never been. Of the top eight in Frank Vogel’s rotation, five – Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, Darren Collison, Paul George, and Tyler Hansbrough – have never won a playoff series. Four – Hibbert, Collison, George, and Hansbrough – will be playing in their 10th playoff game of their young careers.
For Pacer coach Frank Vogel, it is the opportunity to continue to prove himself as an NBA coach. Less than 18 months ago, it was being reported that the Pacers would not fire then-coach Jim O’Brien primarily because they didn’t want to elevate one of the assistants to the job. This raised clear questions about Vogel, who was the lead assistant at the time. Additional doubts were made clear during the extended hiring process, in which Larry Bird supposedly was insisting on strong assistants before making Vogel’s position permanent. And now, after coaching his team to 42 wins, the 38-year old Vogel is on the verge of making his first appearance in the second round.
For the franchise and for this city, there is the opportunity to take one more step – a giant one – in repairing what had been a horribly mangled relationship. This may be the biggest opportunity of them all.The first two games of this series in the Fieldhouse were reported as sellouts. More importantly, the crowds were loud and overwhelmingly pro-Pacer. There’s plenty of reason to hope tonight’s crowd will be much the same.
For all of the fascination with championships and stars, this is really where bonds are made between a franchise and its fans. The magic isn’t in the fact of titles, but in the dream of titles. What keeps people coming back is the hope, and this spring brings the opportunity for hope to take root once again.
I’ve watched a lot of Pacer basketball, and while Reggie and 8 points in 9 seconds and all of the playoff success is special, I can think of no personal memories I cherish more than watching from high in the stands at Market Square Arena, when Chuck Person hit a PUJIT three to all but lock up Game Four of the 1991 First Round playoff series against the Celtics. I can think of no moment when I felt more a part of a Pacer community, than walking down the ramps at MSA after sweeping Orlando in 1994 – everyone laughing and shouting, cars honking their horns and the world filled with nothing but Pacer fans.
What happened yesterday, and what will come the rest of the playoffs are really of little importance tonight. Tonight, there are just these opportunities, and all that really remains to be done is for the Pacers – and all of us – to reach out and grab them both hands.