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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

SDH Presents the 2013 End of Season NBA's Worst to First: 4. Indiana Pacers

Overall Win/Loss Record (At Season’s End): 49-32, first place Central Division

At Season’s End:

Team Statistics and League Rank (At Season’s End)
  • Points Scored: 94.7 (23rd)
  • Points Allowed: 90.7 (2nd)
  • Team FG%: .436 (26th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .420 (1st)
  • Team FT%: .746 (19th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .347 (22nd)
  • Rebounds per game: 45.9 (1st)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 40.9 (8th)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.5 (22nd)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 13.0 (24th)

Individual Statistical Leaders (At Season’s End)
  • Scoring (ppg): Paul George (17.4)
  • Rebounds per game:  Roy Hibbert (8.3)
  • Minutes per game:  Paul George (37.6)
  • Assists per game:  George Hill (4.7)
  • Field Goal Percentage: David West (.498)
  • Free Throw Percentage: DJ Augustin (.840)  
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Orlando Johnson (.383)
  • Steals per game:  Paul George (1.8)
  • Blocked Shots per game:   Roy Hibbert (2.6)

Taking a Look Back at the Season that Once Was . . .

SDH Worst to First Recap
Time Period
Change (+/-)
At Season’s End
SDH Player of the Year:
Lance Stephenson

During the regular season, Lance Stephenson did not turn that many heads as he averaged a solid yet very unspectacular 8.8 points per game, but he certainly raised numerous eyebrows with his performance in the post season.  It was there that he exploded onto the basketball scene as he was one of the primary catalysts in the Pacers' triumphant performance in the playoffs.  In the 19 games he played, Stephenson averaged close to eight boards per game which was third on the team and was a terror for his opponents on the defensive end grabbing more than a steal per game.   He was certainly a crucial factor in the Pacers' eliminating the heavily favored New York Knicks in the second round as he torched the Knicks in game six posting a double-double 25 points and grabbing 10 boards while shooting .692 from the field.  Stephenson was also instrumental in the Miami series which went to the full seven games before the Heat pulled away in game seven and advance to the NBA Finals.

At the start of the season the Indiana Pacers seemed primed to not only take over their own Central Division but also be the team that would most likely challenge the NBA Champion Miami Heat for the Eastern Conference crown.  The Pacers spent most of the off season upgrading the roster which already included an already solid group consisting of All Star center Roy Hibbert, up and coming swingman Paul George, and sharpshooting combo guard George Hill to name a few.   First they bolstered their backcourt by signing athletic swingman Gerald Green, who previously had a breakout season while playing for the then New Jersey Nets the previous season along with picking up DJ Augustin, an excellent pass first point guard who had been let go by the Charlotte Bobcats.  They then upgraded the backcourt even further by trading away former starting point guard Darren Collison to the Dallas Mavericks for center Ian Mahinimi, who had come off a career year with the Mavs and was expected to be a perfect backup option at center for their All Star Hibbert.  Add the fact that they will be in a far weaker Central Division with a depleted Chicago Bulls squad being their sole competitor for the division crown with their revamped roster, many thought the Pacers would not only easily finish with one of the top five records in the league, but also be the sole barrier to Miami's goal to win its second straight championship title.

Unfortunately none of that could be farther from the truth as the Indiana Pacers stumbled out of the gates upon opening tip off ice cold from the field and looked nowhere near like the team that many had anticipated them to be.  Their All Star center Roy Hibbert went from being the potential superstar stud he was last season to downright dud as he could not hit a basket to save his life shooting a rather pathetic .378 from the field while averaging just a paltry 9.5 points per game.  The team which they had expected to have a more free flowing and explosive offense thanks to their off-season acquisitions failed to live up to expectations as they continued the same plodding half court sets which all but nullified the skill sets and potential contributions of their new acquisitions Green and Mahinmi.  Indiana would go on to start the regular season rather poorly losing six of its first ten games before finishing the first month of the season with a rather less than stellar 8-8 record--not exactly very becoming for a team that was expected to the NBA by storm. As the season wore on, it seemed as if the Pacers would be lucky enough to reach the playoffs--forget about winning the Central Division title or facing the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Fortunately for the Pacers, they were able to bounce back from their awful start first by returning back to respectability and eventually finished the season first place in the Central Division along with the third place seeding in Eastern Conference Playoffs.  Unfortunately, the Pacers would not finish as strongly as hoped as they ended the regular season with a less than impressive 49-32 record--which would have been considered good for a mediocre team whose only goal was to make the playoffs, but not for a team that had so much expectations as Indiana had upon them.  Indy certainly had plenty of help clinching their division as they had the good fortune of being in a rather weak one where their strongest competitor was even worse on the offensive end than they were in the Chicago Bulls--who dragged their way to the post season without their franchise player Derrick Rose leading them.  Add the fact that the Eastern Conference was nowhere near as competitive as the far stronger Western Conference which boasted five teams with 50 or more win compared to the East's two, the Pacers basically came out of their rather lackluster regular season virtually unscathed.  Now the Pacers would enter the post season with little or no fanfare and virtually no expectations as many expected much of the same flat and stagnant play that they showed during the regular season; however, to the surprise of many, Indy would actually prove all their doubter wrong and put forth such a spectacular playoff performance that it would lead many dumbfounded.

The same team that ranked near the bottom of the league in scoring and field goal percentage during the regular season looked more like the fast paced free flowing team as had been originally advertised before the opening tip off.  Roy Hibbert who saw a sharp drop in his performance during the regular season suddenly transformed into the superstar center in which many had lost hope that he would become as his numbers boosted from an anemic 11 points and eight boards per game in the regular season to a whopping 17 points and 10 boards per game in the playoffs.  After a hard fought first round series where they downed the Atlanta Hawks, a team that could be seen as Indiana's equal in many aspects, the Pacers went on to shock the world and eliminated the heavily favored New York Knicks in the second round and unlike their first round series with the Hawks, it was not even a contest.  The Pacers simply dominated the series as they swept in and took away the Knicks' home court advantage and continued their humiliation of the overall favorite to face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals as Indy took a three games to one lead.  The Knicks would eventually fall in six games, but the story would not end as the Pacers would carry on that momentum against the Miami Heat and have both Heat fans and the entire league holding their collective breath.

The Eastern Conference Championship saw Indy take a mighty titan known as the Miami Heat who breezed through the regular season and stormed through the first two rounds of the playoffs and virtually reduced them into the humble status of mere mortals.  The Heat's once mighty champion who had been the catalyst of  the South Beach domination was reduced to the points of being a timid child who suddenly lost his confidence which brought the team down with him.  It almost looked as if Indiana would complete the trifecta and send the Heat packing as they did with the Knicks when the Pacers won game five in Miami giving them the series lead and the opportunity to advance to the NBA Finals.  Miami would have also endured a shattering humiliation as well which possibly led to the departure of head coach Erik Spoelstra as they would have had to live with the shame of being beaten by a team that had not even won 50 games in the regular season. Fortunately for the Heat, they would manage to right their ship winning the next two games and thus return to the NBA Finals for the third straight year;  however, it still does not take away from the triumphant resurrection of the Indiana Pacers, who many did not see as even having a chance to make it past the first round, let alone take a team such as the Miami Heat to the very limit.

Although it brought much joy, pride and even relief to a Indiana fan base who were forced to endure watching their team scratch and scrape through the regular season, it also must have brought much frustration as well as their Pacers should had been playing that way from the very beginning.  From opening the tip off, they should have played with the same swagger that got them as far as the Conference Finals because they certainly had the tools to do so.  Watching Roy Hibbert come alive as he did in the playoffs must have been met as much joy and relief as disdain and disgust considering the fact that he had played so poorly after having earned his first All Star nod the season prior.  Nonetheless, one should point out that it does not matter how one starts a race, but rather how he finishes it and in the case of the Indiana Pacers, they did so in such a triumphant manner that it actually gave their fans hope for the next season.  However, Indiana had not better start next season as they did with the last for the Pacers may not be a lucky the next time around.