by Bert Beiswanger
I should’ve taken a B-12 vitamin prior to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. I’m told they work well to prevent the pain of hangovers – not that I would know. What I do know is we’ve been here before. For all the Indiana Pacers accomplished, Tuesday felt like a hangover based on the extremely rough performance in Game 7.
Since the 1993-94 season, the Pacers have made it to seven Eastern Conference Finals, five of which went to Game 7. On six occasions they were unable to push on to the NBA Finals. It gets a little old after a while.
This team accomplished more than I think anyone thought they would once it was clear they were going to be without Danny Granger for the entire season. But the performance in Game 7 deserves criticism and raised some questions moving forward. I just found it to be a very disturbing ending to what was a wonderful season.
I could tolerate the Pacers playing one of their best games and losing Monday night. But what they did instead was lay an egg. They gave themselves no chance to win that game: Nine first quarter and 16 first half turnovers. Do you really need to dissect the game much beyond that?
To think the Pacers will just waltz right back to a Game 7 of the conference finals next year and make it over the hump is a little short-sighted. Naturally, the talk now centers on what the team can do to take the next step.
The easiest and most obvious assumption is that the Pacers will be a better team because all the key ingredients will get better with another year of experience. That may be the case and will probably be the most important factor. But I’m not sure that alone will do it.
So much next year hinges on the health of Danny Granger. I don’t want to hear any more about Paul George’s arrival. Everyone calm down a little. He is making steady progress and showing all the signs of a star in the making. But he’s not there, yet. He had seven points on nine shots in Game 7. I know he’s asked to do a lot, but that’s not arriving. He’s on his way, I get it, but he’s still got a little ways to go.
People often point to how much George is asked to do. A big reason is the Pacers, as a team, can’t shoot and score consistently. Too often George has to carry a burden he’s not quite ready to carry. They don’t have the guy who can get on a roll and knock down perimeter shots like Granger can. You see what happens when George doesn’t score.
This team is offensively offensive at times. Paul George has not arrived because he too often has games like Monday night. That’s no slight to him. It’s simply a reminder that George is still a young player who has room for improvement, if we’re talking about him truly being a star.
Granger is capable of getting on rolls and knocking down big shots. If he’s healthy, he returns to the starting lineup and Stephenson strengthens the bench and continues to grow. If he’s serviceable and not entirely healthy?…I still wonder what you do. This team can’t shoot consistently. I want Granger back if he’s serviceable, even if it’s off the bench. His salary may seem like a lot for a bench player, but his contract comes off the books after 2014. That’s not a bad situation to be in. It all depends on what options are out there. All I know is the Gerald Green and Sam Young signings won’t cut it.
If David West will take a similar contract to the one he signed a couple years ago, fine. If not, I’m not sure the Pacers won’t need to explore other options, though I don’t think it will get to that point.
Whatever moves are made will be done with the consideration that Paul George is up for renewal after next season (when Granger’s current deal comes off the books). You can’t over-sign someone like David West. That has to be the right deal for cap reasons. Plus, George Hill’s $10 mill per year contract isn’t exactly cap-friendly for this team simply because it is evident the Pacers still need point guard help. D.J. Augustin was a big disappointment. It would be nice if Hill could log more minutes at the two spot but personnel will probably dictate that he will spend most of the time at the point again. Hopefully, he will improve his point guard skills and help cure some of the problems this team has taking care of the ball.
If it sounds like I’m being overly critical, it’s because I am. I’m tired of losing conference finals. And I’m tired of the assumption that since a team made it to a certain level it’s automatic that it will take the next step the following year. It’s not that easy. And the salary cap restricts just how much a team can do to improve.
Getting embarrassed by 20 points in Game 7 changed my outlook a little. Derrick Rose also returns for the Chicago Bulls next year. Don’t be so sure that a return to the conference finals is guaranteed.