Charles Barkley has never been shy about firing off his honest opinion. After an embarrassing Game 1 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Indiana Pacers found themselves squarely in the Chuckster's crosshairs.
In a venting session during TNT's in-game studio coverage, Barkley eviscerated the Pacers for their lack of effort and heart, calling them "dogs" and "wussies."
Indiana suffered a 101-93 defeat to the eighth-seeded Hawks in Game 1 of their first-round matchup, and to Barkley's point, Indiana clearly came out on the wrong end of an effort battle in a game that was nowhere near as close as the final score suggested.
It always feels a little self-serving whenever a star from the NBA's past questions the toughness of today's players. The implied intent is always that the critic was a bigger, better man than the subject of the criticism. There's an element of that in Barkley's comments.
And Sir Charles is probably a little more motivated to browbeat the Pacers because their swoon is proving his earlier assessment of the team wrong:
Barkley says, Evan Turner trade wraps it up for Pacers in East. Now, you know it’ll backfire.— Jorge Sedano (@SedanoESPN) February 21, 2014
But his comments aren't unfair or off the mark.
The Pacers were supposed to use the playoffs as a fresh start, as a way to rediscover the dominant defense and solid chemistry that made them the league's best team for the first 50 games of the season.
They fell far short of that goal.
Instead of rising to the challenge, Indy fell back into its troubling late-season habits. The offense stalled, players moped and nobody in a Pacers uniform had any answers.
If Indiana can't muster its missing toughness, it'll continue to face scathing criticism from Barkley and everyone else who can't figure out how the season imploded so thoroughly. Roy Hibbert rediscovering the ability to rebound would be a good start. Someone—anyone!—getting into the lane on offense wouldn't hurt either.
If the Pacers think they're catching heat now, just imagine how ugly things will get if they drop the series. There are worse things than being called a wussy.
"Historically profound disappointment" comes to mind as one example. That's what the Pacers will be if they can't toughen up enough to avoid a catastrophic defeat.