Without benefit of high draft picks or major star power, Indiana finds ways to stay a threat.
By SAM AMICOFS Ohio
CLEVELAND — When the
Indiana Pacers play like this, they prove a lot of things that so-called basketball experts don’t want to hear.
They prove that just making the playoffs can be enough — and that finishing with the eighth seed when you’re young actually counts for a lot.
They prove you don’t need a bunch of lottery picks to build a team through the draft.
And they prove in an Eastern Conference dominated by the superstar-studded Miami Heat, they’re a legitimate No. 2.
The Pacers (41-26) turned Quicken Loans Arena into their own House of Horrors on Monday, walloping the Cavaliers to the tune of 111-90.
It was pretty much only that close because the NBA has yet to introduce a mercy rule.
The Pacers once led by 28. They rattled off an 11-0 run in a measly one minute, 43 seconds. They basically did whatever they wanted via brute force on defense and precision on offense.
Oh, did we mention the Pacers were without starting power forward David West (sprained back)? And they’ve barely had forward Danny Granger (knee) all season.
So, how do the Pacers do it? By playing hard, drafting shrewdly, and buying into coach Frank Vogel’s philosophy that you can really go places by acting determined and physical.
Two seasons ago, the Pacers finished with the eighth seed and lost in the first round of the playoffs. Last year, they made it to the conference semifinals. This year, they’re leading (and the favorites to win) the Central Division.
The Pacers have done a lot of this without making any major-splash moves, either.
All-Star shooting guard Paul George was drafted 10th overall out of Fresno State — hardly a basketball factory.
West was signed as a free agent, and it seemed almost like a secret. He was originally drafted by New Orleans with the No. 28 pick.
Granger and center Roy Hibbert were each selected with the No. 17 pick, and wild-man reserve Tyler Hansbrough went 13th.
In case that’s not enough, starting shooting guard Lance Stephenson went 40th. Also, reserve swingman Gerald Green is a high-flying journeyman who was originally drafted 18th by Boston back in 2005.
Then there’s starting point guard George Hill, who played for San Antonio for a few seasons after the Spurs nabbed him at No. 26. Hill is far from your prototypical point guard. He’s not a dynamic distributor, dead-eye shooter or lockdown defender.
But like the rest of the Pacers, he just gets it. He just understands you can be a lot more dangerous if you play off your teammates.
As for Monday’s blowout, Vogel said, “We wanted to guard the (three-point arc). We wanted to defend the paint. We wanted to keep them off the free-throw line. We did a pretty good job in all three areas.”
Yeah. That about sums up this game, and the Pacers’ season as a whole.
The offense wasn't too shabby, either. Of the Pacers' 39 baskets Monday, 15 were dunks or layups.
But there’s nothing too fancy here, folks. Nothing at all.
Will the Pacers beat Miami in the playoffs? Well, probably not. But they will make the Heat earn every basket, every pass, every attempt at a fast-break dunk.
That’s just what the Pacers do. They build about as well as can be expected for a mid-market team from the Midwest, they keep the ball moving and they play with an edge.
When the Heat fade, which could be as soon as the free-agent summer of 2014, the Pacers very well could be next in line.
As for today, it’s true the Pacers probably aren’t at a championship level. But they are in a nice place, a place a lot of organizations from mid-sized markets with middle first-round draft picks would love to be.