Assigning Credit for the Indiana Pacers' Playoff Run
Indiana is a far cry from the team that limped toward the playoffs, losing five of its last six. Now, the 2013 NBA Central Division champions are duking it out with the Miami Heat for the right to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
Who would have thought?
There are many factors that have contributed mightily to this team's postseason resurgence. The bigger challenge is, where do we actually begin?
How about Indy's top-notch rebounding or the players' ability to respond?
The only logical criteria here would be the absolute impact each factor has made on the Pacers' postseason success.
Make no mistake about it, each of these factors carries equal weight. Had one of them not come into play, there's no telling how Indiana would have fared in the playoffs.
What better way to start than giving credit to Indiana Pacers fans?
Indiana's fans didn't really mesmerize the NBA during the regular season in terms of attendance, finishing just 25th in the league, according to ESPN.
The team also has had other issues with its fan base—from GM Kevin Pritchard's tweet expressing his disgust with the hordes of Chicago Bulls fans in attendance at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to George Hill ripping Indy fans for their lack of support in a March game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
However, now that Indiana is making great strides in the postseason, Pacers fans have come out in full force. Each supporter is decked out in a "Blue Collar, Gold Swagger" shirt, making Bankers Life Fieldhouse a sea of gold during playoff games.
It is truly reminiscent of the good 'ol Market Square Arena days.
From Amp Harris and Mike Epps' "All Gold Everything" song, to the support from Indianapolis Colts' Robert Mathis and Pat McAfee, to fans' presence at the Indianapolis airport in the wee hours of the morning—Pacers' followers have truly made an impact on their team.
Jake Miller of Indianapolis' Fox 59 confirms "fans are pumped about the resurgence of the Pacers." He also quoted Pacers coach Frank Vogel on the fans:
We've been dominant at home this postseason and a lot of it has to do with the energy our guys get from the home crowd.
This can mean only one thing.
Indiana Pacers basketball is back with a vengeance.
Coach Frank Vogel
Yes, Frank Vogel.
Never mind if he called that ill-advised timeout in Game 2 of the second-round series against the New York Knicks.
Never mind if he pulled Roy Hibbert out of the waning seconds of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
The guy is human.
Think of what the Pacers have done since the team dismissed Jim O'Brien. With O'Brien at the helm, the Pacers were 121-169 (.417).
All Vogel has done is help the Pacers climb back to respectability. Ever since he took over, Indiana has compiled a 111-74 record (.600). He has a higher winning percentage than Rick Carlisle when he called the shots for the Pacers.
Vogel's winning percentage is also the highest that any Indiana Pacer coach has had since Larry Bird, covering a span of 13 seasons.
Needless to say, Vogel's record speaks volumes of the impact he has made on the franchise. What about his impact on the player whom he called the best rim protector in the game, Roy Hibbert? Said Hibbert:
There's few people I'd run a brick wall through for, and that's one of the guys I'd do it for.
Give Vogel tons of credit for also helping the Pacers progress in the playoffs as they have advanced to the next round every year since 2011.
Vogel is also the first Pacers coach to bring the team back to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since Carlisle did so in the 2003-04 season.
This Indiana Pacers team wouldn't be where it is had it not been for Larry Bird.
In fact, this team's makeup is largely due to Bird's moves when he served as a team executive from 2003-12.
Heed the words of NBA.com's David Aldridge:
The team that Bird put together looks for all intents and purposes like the only team in the East capable of giving LeBron James and the Heat a battle for the next few seasons.
Aldridge also runs through the key transactions that Bird was responsible for as a member of the Pacers' front office.
First, Bird traded for Roy Hibbert in 2008, although other teams didn't have Big Roy on their draft boards.
In 2010, Bird and the Pacers drafted Paul George with the 10th overall pick.
The following year, Indiana acquired George Hill.
Aldridge notes that it was Bird who convinced David West to sign with the Pacers and not the Boston Celtics, even though the Celtics offered him more money.
Bird also used a second-rounder in 2010 to draft Lance Stephenson and then promoted Frank Vogel as head coach in 2011.
Take a bow, Larry.
Dale and Antonio Davis would be proud.
This current crop of Indiana Pacers continues to assert their might on the glass in the playoffs as the best rebounding team in the NBA.
It's a given that the center and power forward are expected to crash the boards, but where else can you find a shooting guard (Lance Stephenson) and small forward (Paul George) combination who have the ability to combine for at least 20 rebounds in one night?
Stephenson, as erratic as he can be offensively, is fearless in trying to snag rebounds. In the playoffs, he has had two games with 12 rebounds and one game with 13 rebounds. What's more astonishing is that his 7.9 rebounds average in the playoffs is better than that of David West (6.9).
It's not just about Stephenson. As a unit, Indiana has out-rebounded the opposition in 13 of its 15 playoff games in 2013.
It was Larry Bird's playoff nemesis, Pat Riley, who said "No rebounds, no rings."
The Indiana Pacers may very well epitomize the importance of rebounding during the playoffs should they go on to win their very first NBA championship.
Players' Ability to Respond
If there's one team that has players in its starting unit who can deliver on any given night, it's the Indiana Pacers.
- George Hill's 26-point explosion against the New York Knicks in Game 4 of the second round prompted Pacers coach Frank Vogel to call it "maybe the best game I ever saw him play."
- Lance Stephenson's Game 6 breakout performance against the Knicks, in which he scored 25 points, put New York away for good.
- Paul George's 22-point showcase in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat was punctuated by THE dunk over Chris Andersen that prompted many fans to abuse the rewind button on YouTube.
- David West's 20-point performance in Game 1 of the second round against the Knicks helped the Pacers steal home-court advantage.
- Roy Hibbert's dominant performance against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals was highlighted by his 23 points and 12 rebounds in Game 4.
Clearly, the Indiana Pacers are not a one-man show. Anybody can deliver the goods when needed.
Each starter has already made a loud statement in the postseason. It's really a solid team effort that has carried the Pacers this far.
Expect the trend to continue.