Are the Indiana Pacers Redefining Expectations in the Playoffs?

Andy HuSenior Writer IIMay 26, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 26:  Udonis Haslem #40 of the Miami Heat defends against Paul George #24 of the Indiana Pacers during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on May 26, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Indiana Pacers were always a good team. Everybody knew they were a good team. But nobody considered them anything more than dark-horse contenders in the beginning of the season.

When the regular season ended, the Pacers finished with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Although the East is much weaker record-wise than the West, it's still impressive that the Pacers were able to be so successful while their leading scorer for the past five seasons—Danny Granger—was sidelined.

After getting blown out in two straight games on the Atlanta Hawks' home floor in the first round, the Pacers looked a bit shaky.

They followed those two losses by winning two straight by large margins and finished off the Hawks in six games. It's obviously not very enticing to see the third seed get blown out twice in the first round, but the Pacers bounced back nicely and proved why they were one of the best teams in the league.

Then, the semifinals pitted the Pacers against the favorite New York Knicks.

Once again, the Pacers exceeded expectations and eliminated the second-seeded Knicks, who were seemingly destined to clash with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.

However, it's the Pacers who have found themselves face-to-face with the defending champions, not the Knicks.

The Pacers are no longer just dark-horse contenders. They're the real deal.

Even though they finished the season as the best defensive team in the league (per Hollinger's Team Stats), they still don't get the respect that they deserve. Although the Pacers' offense is another story, their defense is what they rely on every game.

Defense wins championships, and the Pacers are the best team in the league at it.

The Pacers split the first two games against the Heat but then lost Game 3 by a big margin. However, they've shown that they could compete against the Heat on their own home floor and could have easily won both of those games if it weren't for a LeBron James game-winning layup.

Now that the Eastern Conference Finals are in full swing, the Pacers are expected to make adjustments heading into Game 4 to prepare themselves for a competitive series.

The team has come a long way from last year.

In the 2012 postseason, they were merely an afterthought when discussing championship contenders. They were just lunch for a clearly superior Miami Heat team on a mission to win the title, which they did.

Now, they're more than just an appetizer. They can legitimately knock the Heat out of the playoffs if they continue playing like they did in Games 1 and 2.

The Pacers are not only expected to compete in a fierce seven-game series against the Heat, but there will hardly be any surprise if they eliminate them. Not bad for a team that has gone unnoticed for most of the year.