The Indiana Pacers might have reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the second consecutive season in 2014, but long before the Miami Heat rolled them 4-2 in the best-of-seven series, they had so many chinks in their armor, it might as well have been a loincloth. Pacers wing Paul George spoke about what happened to the Los Angeles Daily News yesterday during his one-day camp in his hometown of Palmdale, California.
The Pacers started the 2013-14 season by winning their first nine games and were at 40-12 before the all-star break. They were in complete control of the Eastern Conference with visions of their first trip to the Finals since Jalen Rose was lacing them up and the Dunking Dutchman, Rik Smits, was throwing them down at the turn of the millennium.
Then, all of a sudden, the Pacers imploded. They were close to a .500 team after the February break (16-14) and only kept the No. 1 seed in the East because the Heat were almost as bad (17-14). Then, they struggled to get past the only sub-.500 playoff team in the first round when the Hawks took them to the brink, going down 3-2 before beating the Hawks in their next two.
Indy struggled at times against a young Wizards team, losing the opener at home, almost losing on the road in Game 4, losing Game 5 at home again before closing them out on the road in Game 6. Then Miami came to town and blew them off the court in six games just as quickly as Lance Stephenson blew in LeBron James‘ ear.
George attempted to explain the bipolar season to the Los Angeles Daily News’ Vincent Bonsignore:
“Before we were hungry,” he said. “We started the year off hungry, the bad taste from the year before was in our mouths and everyone was on a mission. Once we started to win, the game was coming too easy. We were running away from our opponents and we just kind of forgot that edge.”
“It was a point where we came into games thinking we could just turn it on, regardless if we started bad or not. And I think that kind of put us in a funk to where teams were starting to really play us and get ready for us,” he said.
“We weren’t the team chasing opponents. We were being chased and we couldn’t find that balance between getting that edge back we started the season with.”
So they started the season motivated to storm back after losing Game 7 to the Heat in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals. Then, when they dominated the league through the season’s first 50 games, they relaxed, and that’s when things started to unravel. Apathy breeds laziness, which is why it’s so hard to repeat as an NBA champ, let alone three-peat.
George, for his part, thinks they had the pieces, but they peaked too early. The 24-year-old franchise player claims the Pacers would have won the ‘chip if the playoffs had started in November or December, and they had all the pieces to get it done:
“We were still a great team. We still had pieces, despite the year we had. We had the pieces to win a championship,” he said. “Ultimately we couldn’t put it together at the right time. Had we started the playoffs in November or December we’d probably be holding up a trophy. We peaked too early.”
With Lance Stephenson heading to Charlotte and the Cavaliers suddenly the title favorites (the Spurs are crying their laughing so hard) the Pacers might not have the pieces to really compete for a title again. Just goes to show you what sort of mental toughness it takes to win it all. The Pacers might have had the perfect team last year to wrench the Larry O’Brien trophy from their rivals in Florida (that’s forgetting the Spurs would have most likely destroyed Indiana, too), but Frank Vogel’s squad couldn’t keep that hunger through the slog of an 82-game regular season and then two more months for the playoffs.
Could the Pacers have won the title if the playoffs started in December last year?
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