We all knew this was a big game.
Players knew it. Coaches knew it. Fans knew it.
Despite Derrick Rose’s attempts to dismiss the rivalry…the atmosphere at Bankers Life Fieldhouse was anything but civil. Disdain was in the air…both in the stands and on the floor. But one thing was clear as the game unfolded: the Pacers wanted it more.
That was 100% evident during “Winning Time”…when the Pacers closed the game on a 30-11 run. This was their night…their coming out party, on a national stage. This didn’t feel like game-five of an 82-game season. It was an early validation.
Paul George is a legit MVP contender. Paul has had “Kobe-like” flashes in the first week of the season. He’s second in the league in scoring and has displayed an array of new weapons in his offensive arsenal. He had a rough shooting night against Chicago, but finished with 21 points, six rebounds, and three assists. His confidence is sky high and he even finds ways to stay involved when his shot isn’t falling. That’s what separates him from other stars. Some are one dimensional (for example: Melo just scores)…some are two-dimensional (for example: Deron Williams scores and gets his teammates involved). But Paul is proving that he can score, get his teammates involved, rebound, and defend the opposing team’s best scoring option. Tuesday Paul guarded Josh Smith…Wednesday he defended Luol Deng and Derrick Rose.
Roy Hibbert is a legit Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Roy had seven blocks Tuesday in Detroit…and added another five last night to go along with ten rebounds. Roy is averaging over five blocks a game and is on pace for well over 400. Jermaine O’Neal’s franchise record for blocks in a single season is 228. Mark Eaton is the only man in NBA history to reach 400 in a single season. He had 456 in 1985. Something to aim for, right?
Lance Stephenson is for real. Born Ready was all kinds of bad in the first half…but when his team needed him to step up, he did. Fifteen points in the second half, including twelve of Indiana’s 30 points in the final eight minutes. After a demonstrative celebration after one of Lance’s fourth quarter three’s…Dan LeBatard of ESPN tweeted: “Lance Stephenson strutting like a man who doesn’t know he’s 5 for 50 in this game” That clearly wasn’t meant as a compliment…but it also inadvertently speaks to Lance’s growth and confidence in his shooting ability. After all those misses, Lance still had the audacity to believe his next one would go in.
The bench HAS improved. Luis Scola is a clear upgrade and he showed what he’s capable of Wednesday night. He scored 12 points in 16 minutes and helped the Pacers pull away in the fourth quarter. CJ Watson has played well filling in for George Hill, and will be a viable scoring option when he returns to the second unit. Oh, and we can’t forget about the return of Danny Granger in a couple weeks.
Think about that for a moment. Yes, Derrick Rose is still knocking off rust…but the Pacers won by 17 points without George Hill or Danny Granger. Some may not have faith in Danny’s ability to stay healthy, but Lance’s emergence means Danny won’t need to play heavy minutes. Less wear and tear…fewer opportunities to aggravate nagging injuries. Time will tell…
The Pacers are 5-and-0 for the first time since the 1971-72 season. The L’s will come…but, if this team stays healthy, we could see the fewest in franchise history. THAT’S how talented this team is.