The Events That Drastically Changed the Course of the Indiana Pacers' Season
The Indiana Pacers are the 2012-13 NBA Central Division Champions.
This is the franchise's first Central Division title in nearly a decade. Indiana last accomplished this feat in the 2003-2004 season, when it posted a gaudy 61-21 record and with Reggie Miller nearing his last hurrah in Pacers pinstripes.
Not bad at all considering the adversity this team had to go through in years past:
- The brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 2004
- Draft busts (Shawne Williams, David Harrison and Brandon Rush)
- Off-court incidents (Williams, Jamaal Tinsley and Stephen Jackson)
- Questionable acquisitions (Troy Murphy, Ike Diogu, Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and Sarunas Jasikevicius)
- Bad coaching (Isiah Thomas and Jim O'Brien)
- Severe attendance issues
As memorable a season this has been, there are several key events that helped shape this team's destiny. Granted, the playoffs begin in less than two weeks, and the road will definitely become more arduous.
This is not to say that winning the Central Division Championship is a walk in the park. For the Indiana Pacers to come this far, several positive turns of events had to take place.
Take All-Star forward Paul George's much-awaited breakout season, for example.
On the flip side, the Pacers' mettle was also tested by several bumps in the road—one of which was franchise cornerstone Danny Granger's left knee injury. For a team to make progress toward elite status, its response to adversity will play a major role.
Let's now probe deeper into the events that drastically changed the course of the NBA Central Division champion Indiana Pacers' 2012-13 NBA season.
Leadership Under Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard
Donnie Walsh is no stranger to Indiana Pacer fans. He has had positions with the franchise ranging from assistant coach to Pacers CEO and President from 1984-2008. As general manager in 1987, he made the controversial call to draft Reggie Miller over Steve Alford.
We all know how that turned out.
Walsh bolted for the hated rival New York Knicks in 2008, only to come back for a second tour of duty with the franchise on June 27, 2012, taking over the reins from Larry Bird as President of Basketball Operations.
Kevin Pritchard, a native Hoosier and respected basketball aficionado dating back to his days with the San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers, was also brought on board to right the Pacers' ship.
So far, both men have chosen to stay put and not make any drastic moves. During the course of the season, some people have been clamoring for a change which include a Danny Granger trade or a J.J. Redick acquisition, only to fall on deaf ears in the name of team chemistry.
With Indiana's current 48-29 standing, the result speaks for itself. The only major question mark is if this Pacers squad will make huge inroads during the 2013 NBA playoffs. Team management pulling the trigger will all hinge on the success or failure of this team when it matters the most.
Admit it, though: Sometimes not making a move is just as good as making one.
Matching the Portland Trail Blazers' Offer for Roy Hibbert
You may argue that matching the Portland Trail Blazers' four-year offer sheet worth $58 million for Roy Hibbert at the beginning of the season was a stroke of genius. After all, Hibbert remains one of the few bona fide true centers in the NBA, made in the mold of fellow Georgetown alum Patrick Ewing.
Not only that, tendering an offer sheet for that much money clearly means your stock has risen considerably as a player. This is attested by his 2012 season when he notched career highs in points, rebounds, blocked shots and field-goal percentage.
Because of these factors, Indiana reached deep into its pockets, making sure Hibbert would be a Pacer for the next four years.
However, the intended result didn't start out favorably.
Hibbert started the 2012-13 season on an atrocious note, averaging only 9.1 points per game in November, shooting an abysmal 38 percent from the floor and 56 percent from the stripe. Hibbert's propensity for poor shot selection and early foul trouble can really do him in.
It also wasn't uncommon to see Paul George outrebound Hibbert on the post-game stat sheet, which—to say the least—was maddening.
The struggles continued until February, making Pacers fans wonder if they're stuck with a dud in the middle. The good news is that Hibbert seems to be back with a vengeance, punctuated by a great month of March in which he averaged 16.5 points per game.
At this stage, it is still not clear whether the Pacers made the right call. It is really up to Hibbert to prove his detractors wrong by being consistent on both ends of the floor.
Danny Granger's Knee Injury
Quickly now: How would you react if your team's leading scorer for the past five seasons would be in the injured list for a prolonged period of time?
If you asked the Indiana Pacers coaching staff, panic was never an option. Although Granger sustained a patellar tendinosis injury on his left knee in late 2012, the Pacers still managed to win the Central Division title and experience being 20 games above .500 for the first time since the 2004 season.
This is thanks in large part to the inspired play of Paul George, David West, Lance Stephenson, Tyler Hansbrough (most notably when West sat out six games due to a lower back injury) and, just recently, Roy Hibbert.
Granger recently underwent surgery on April 4 and is projected to be out until training camp. Since he was drafted by the Pacers in 2005, this is Granger's first time to experience prolonged inactivity due to an injury. He only played in five games this season, averaging 5.4 points per game.
Does this make Granger expendable?
By all means, no. A healthy Granger would solidify the starting unit and give the bench more energy and an additional scoring punch in Stephenson. As good a scorer Granger is, his defense is also underrated.
The bigger question that looms is whether he'll be the same Danny Granger he was when he returns to action next season.
Paul George's Breakout Season
Where would the Indiana Pacers be without Paul George?
After two seasons mired in relative obscurity, George picked the perfect time to shine in 2013. With Danny Granger sustaining an injury, he has more than picked up the slack.
Through 77 games, has has averaged 17.5 points per game, 7.7 rebounds per game and 4.1 assists per game. He is also shooting 81 percent from the stripe and 36 percent from three-point distance.
George is also getting better at creating his own shot. If you haven't caught a glimpse of his high-wire act, check this out.
What's also so special about George is his versatility. He is as good a defensive stopper as they come in the NBA. Remember, he was assigned to guard the Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose in his rookie year in the 2011 playoffs.
His anticipation is uncanny. His gangly arms plus his defensive savvy often result in a steal which translates to an easy dunk on the other end.
Granted, George is still a work in progress. For him to be an even better player, he must cut down on his turnovers.
In spite of this, he still made a resounding statement by being named an All-Star for the very first time.
Through it all, George is becoming the new face of the franchise. For someone who is barely 23 years of age, the sky is the limit. After everything Pacers fans have seen in 2013, what's not to like?
Inserting Lance Stephenson into the Starting Lineup
Inserting Lance Stephenson into the starting lineup was a gamble for the Pacers.
Prior to the 2012-13 season, Stephenson was a fixture on the Indiana bench. Perhaps the only time he made his presence known was in last year's playoffs against the Miami Heat with his infamous choke sign for LeBron James.
In spite of this, it seems all Stephenson needed was a chance to play.
With Danny Granger's injury, he has shown promise in his current role as a starter at the 2-guard spot. He's averaging 8.5 points per game, but it's clear he's comfortable letting the other starters carry the brunt of the scoring load.
His value lies in his energy and enthusiasm. One can only marvel at how Stephenson runs the open court for an average of 29 minutes in each game. This energy rubs off on his teammates, which results in pin-point execution on both ends of the floor.
Stephenson needs to shore up on his free-throw shooting (shooting only 65 percent through 77 games). He also needs to develop a more consistent mid-range game and to lessen his tendency to come up with reckless plays.
These are things which maturity and experience will eventually overcome.
However, make no mistake about it: Stephenson's role as a starter for the Indiana Pacers has paid handsome dividends.
Tyler Hansbrough Filling in for David West
Tyler Hansbrough has been solid yet unspectacular for the Indiana Pacers since being drafted out of the University of North Carolina in 2009.
Looking at his stats in 2012-13, they are not all that special. In fact, his scoring average has taken a plunge by more than two points, and his rebounding average is not that different from what it was in 2011-12, averaging around 4.6 rebounds per game in 17 minutes of action.
However, Hansbrough's most significant contribution to the Indiana Pacers this season was when he filled in for David West after he sustained a lower-back injury
West's scoring and hustle at the 4-spot is irreplaceable. When he was out from March 18-27, a span of six games, Hansbrough averaged 14.8 points per game and 10.3 rebounds per game on 48-percent shooting.
More importantly, Indiana went 5-1 in those games. Losing West for six games was a tall order. If the Pacers floundered during that stretch, there's no telling if the team would still contend for the Central Division title and against the New York Knicks for the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
Chalk one up for Tyler Hansbrough.
Sweeping the Four-Game West Coast Trip
What's the best antidote for boosting your confidence heading into the playoffs?
Win on the road.
During a West Coast road trip from March 27 to April 1, the Indiana Pacers surpassed expectations by winning all four games. They also made a statement by beating Western Conference playoff-contending teams along the way—the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Through April 8, the Pacers rank second in the entire league in terms of points allowed—a testament to their outstanding defense. Allowing Phoenix to score 104 points in the third game of the trip broke a string of 10 consecutive games in which Indiana held its opponents to less than 100 points.
Nevertheless, this also proves the Pacers can win by outscoring their opponents on the road against quality opposition such as the Clippers.
The bottom line is to be able to maintain this kind of intensity on the road in the playoffs. If this successful road trip sweep was any indication, then the Indiana Pacers should go deeper in the 2013 postseason.