The Indiana Pacers are a young team.
Generally, young teams tend to struggle once they reach the playoffs. By definition they lack the experience to shine on the big stage.
But every once in a while, a young team gets to the postseason and forgets that they aren't supposed to be playing well.
This is part of the reason that the Pacers have advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
Another big part of their success has been a tremendous defense that has shown it can shut down just about anyone they need to in order to win.
But now that they have gotten past the first round, just how far can the Pacers advance in the playoffs?
Defense will dictate success, but not all
The Pacers got past the Atlanta Hawks using their stifling defense. They are active, and most importantly they play with an incredible amount of effort.
Even the bench players come in with a chip on their shoulder and a desire to shut down their man.
But at the end of the day, defense can only take you so far.
When the Pacers were successful against the Hawks and in their Game 1 win over the New York Knicks, they were pounding the ball in down low and out-hustling their opponent.
The Pacers were grabbing every loose ball and dominating the boards. In Game 1 of the Knicks series, the Pacers won the rebounding edge by 14 boards.
In their Game 2 loss, they were beat by two.
In Game 1, the Pacers were able to score down low at will, with David West and Roy Hibbert combining for 34 points.
In their Game 2 loss, those two combined for only 19.
The Pacers are not a great halfcourt team. They are inconsistent shooting from deep, so they need to hammer the post. If they can sufficiently beat up their opponents, they free up driving lanes for wing players like Paul George and Lance Stephenson.
The Knicks are a veteran team with some size, but with the exception of Tyson Chandler, their bigs are old.
Kenyon Martin has been quite the surprise for the Knicks this year, but West can take him in the post whenever he wants.
When the Knicks shift to a small lineup, Carmelo Anthony will be chewed up down low.
By hammering down low, the Pacers can get Chandler in foul trouble and open up the post even more.
Playing harder than the Knicks and overpowering them down low is the only way for the Pacers to beat them.
The good news is that the Pacers could potentially do this, but it will take a ton of effort to get it done. This series is likely going to go all seven games.
Win it ugly
The Bulls are a team built similarly to the Pacers. They are a team that gets by with hustle and determination. Their focus is on defense, plain and simple.
They usually win the rebounding war and get through opponents by grinding out games.
The Heat are about as opposite to this as possible. They aren't necessarily a finesse team, but they count on a prettier style of basketball.
The Heat like to get out in transition and run over their opponents.
In the games that the Pacers were able to win against the Heat, they held them to 89 and 77 points. They slowed the game down and beat them up down low.
Against the Bulls, they employed a similar plan for success, although they could open it up and run a little bit.
The Pacers also enjoy one of the few advantages that they possess against the Heat, a player who can make life slightly more difficult for LeBron James.
Paul George has developed into one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. He is long, athletic and very quick. And as he continues to gain strength, he is going to get even better.
Against the Heat, George can force James to expend more energy than normal.
Don't get me wrong—George isn't a James-stopper. LeBron is the best player in the league, and nobody can "stop" him. But the key is to make life a little more difficult.
In their two wins, George forced James outside, making him a less effective player.
In addition, George called his own number, forcing James to spend more effort on defense than usual.
This matchup was key to the Pacers' success.
That being said, the biggest advantage the Pacers have against the Heat is their size down low and their ability to crush them on the boards.
How far can they go?
The Pacers are just young and crazy enough to not know that they aren't supposed to be here.
They excel at two of the most important aspects of postseason basketball, rebounding and low-post scoring.
By scoring down low and controlling the paint, the Pacers can get easy buckets and dictate the physical tone of the game.
So how far can they go?
There really is no reason to believe that they can't make it to the Finals. The Heat and Knicks are better than the Pacers on paper, but that really doesn't matter.
Playoff games are won and lost in the trenches, and the Pacers are the toughest team left in the Eastern Conference.
It's not going to be easy, and I still wouldn't go out and bet my life savings on them, but the Pacers could make it to the Finals.
It will come down to effort, determination and likely a lot of luck, but this team could pull it out.
That being said, the Western Conference teams will be much better suited to stop them if they make it that far.
The size and rebounding advantage that the Pacers enjoy against the East will quickly evaporate out West.
It still is much more likely that the Heat will be representing the East in the Finals, but the Pacers should not be counted out.
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