Pacers Play The Biggest Game of Their Season – Again and Again
The Pacers are sort of like Peter Gibbons right now. In Office Space, Peter tells a hypnotist that “ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it.” He goes on to explain the troubling reality that this creates.
“So that means that every single day that you see me, that’s on the worst day of my life.”
No, Indiana’s players are not stuck in the soulless, sedentary cycle that is cubicle farming life. But it has started to feel like every game is the most important game of their season. Every game you watch them play is the biggest game of their season.
This isn’t an altogether new revelation.
Most fans live and die with every win or loss. Even while covering the team, I often fall victim of getting caught up in whatever just happened. I have definitely referred to at least four or five different games this season as “the biggest win” or “most depressing loss” of the year.
There will always be a bias towards recency.
With the end of the season peeking over the horizon, however, all that matters is how the team is playing in the run up to the playoffs. None of the wonderful February wins are going to help these Pacers continue to advance as a franchise and improve upon the first- and second-round exits they have had during the past two postseasons.
This is why I think the win over the Hawks — as tortured as ended up being — was vital.
Before that victory, it had been more than three weeks since Indiana beat a quality opponent (Chicago), and over a month since Indiana defeated a team that anyone believes could make either conference’s finals (New York).
On the flip side, they haven’t lost to many bad teams of late. All season really.
To me, these are the two types of games that tend to reveal the most about a team: Wins over good teams and losses to bad teams. Everything else kind of just falls into the middle ground of “meh,” but there is a definite confidence-inspiring turn whenever you beat a good team and an equally deflating one whenever you lose to a bad team.
So, sure, the Pacers have managed to wax all the bad teams they have faced (aside from Toronto) since February started, so there hasn’t been cause for major panic, but nobody really cares how many points you beat the Pistons or Magic by.
And since — before they started to struggle to beat good squads — they were coming off a month-long run during which they beat the Heat, Bulls, Hawks, Knicks, Warriors and Bulls again (only losing to the Nets and Raptors), it was at least somewhat disturbing that they could no longer handle any quality foes.
First they fell to the Clippers, which was understandable.
Then it was the Celtics. But, hey, the Cs were playing some inspired ball after the loss of Rajon Rondo and the Pacers just had a bad night.
Then it was the Heat. C’mon though: who doesn’t get smacked around by Miami, right?
Then came the Lakers, which defeated the Pacers in Indiana while Kobe played just a few token minutes after hurting his ankle two nights earlier.
This was the “Hey, guys. Ummm … what’s happening?” moment.
Troubling, no doubt. But perhaps nothing to worry about, right? They still have the best defense in the East and the conference isn’t exactly full of predators.
Really, individually, none of those losses were that that bad. Maybe the Lakers’ one. On a Friday night. In The Fieldhouse.
But everything would be back to normal soon, right?
The night after losing to the mostly-Kobe-less Lakers, the Pacer went to Philadelphia and ruined St. Patrick’s Day Eve by getting completely out-classed by the Sixers in the fourth quarter. Yes, the same 76ers team that is now 27-43.
C’mon guys. That aint right.
Three straight subsequent detonations if the Cavaliers, Magic and Bucks eased the pain somewhat. The Pacers seemed to be taking out some of their frustration on these NBA dregs (sorry, Milwaukee). Perhaps there isn’t anything to worry about?
A date with their rival Bulls — who wouldn’t even have Joakim Noah — seemed like the perfect recipe to get the team back on track.
Chicago handled ‘em, as Indiana once again couldn’t get it going in the final quarter. The hell is going on here, team with the league’s best defense? It’s one thing to lose to the Heat in the Clippers. But the losses to the league’s middling franchises were starting to pile up.
Which brings us to the win over Atlanta on Monday.
It was gross. It was almost a collapse. But it was a win.
A big, big win that this team needed very, very badly. It was probably the biggest win of the season, even though they nearly lost despite once leading by 28 points.
Most importantly, it added one more tally on the right side of the ledger measuring wins over quality teams. Overall, here is where they stand currently against the league’s “good” (.550 winning percentage and above) and “bad” (.400 and below) teams:
Record vs. Good Teams: 13-14
Record vs. Bad Teams: 25-6
OK. Seeing it all listed like that, the Pacers again seem like they could do some damage in the playoffs. They smoke bad teams and hang with the league’s best. The overall record against good teams. It’s especially encouraging that, since the calendar flipped to 2013, Indiana’s record against good teams has been much improved.
Record vs. Good Teams (since 12/13): 12-6.
So, by and large, everything is still looking up. I think. Probably.
Well, that’s at least how I’ll feel about it until they fail to inspire confidence by again losing to a good team.
Which brings us to tonight.
This evening, one day after falling behind the Knicks for the second seed in the East, the wounded Pacers face the Rockets in Houston in the first matchup of a four-game Western Conference road trip.
It is easily Indiana’s biggest game of the year.