by Kent Sterling
The Indiana Pacers route to the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals was a lot like the Griswold Family’s trek to Walley World in “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”
Twists and turns were everywhere. Nothing went as planned despite a lot of work on the itinerary. But the joy in reaching the long anticipated destination is no less profound because of the bumps and bruises earned along the way.
Coming off a horrific Game Five performance at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, no one predicted a calm and self-assured 13-point win last night. Now, because when you google the definition of the word ‘erratic,’ a Pacers team picture pops up, every reasonable person in the media is picking the Miami Heat to win the series and advance to the NBA Finals.
I admit, it’s not easy to look at the Pacers body of work over the last four months and emerge inspired. Picking the Pacers to beat the Heat requires faith that the Pacers have been waiting for the start of the much anticipated series to unveil their best work.
Inconsistency from the Pacers is cited as the chief reason for the Heat will win, according to the experts, but inconsistency comes in two forms – the awful pits of despair the Pacers have wallowed in periodically, and the splendid moments of grace that propelled them to the NBA’s final four.
While the Pacers have played some terrible basketball in the postseason, they have yet to lose consecutive playoff games since games three and four in the 2013 first round against the Atlanta Hawks – a span of 28 games.
Winning a playoff series doesn’t require great play every single game – just four out of seven times. The Pacers and Wizards had scored exactly the same number of points against one another through five games, but the Pacers were up 3-2. That’s how you win a best-of-seven series.
It’s a matter of when a team plays well, not whether they do.
Sure, the Heat have the best player on the planet in LeBron James, and when he’s right Dwyane Wade is pretty damn good too, but the Pacers are built to make life difficult for the Heat, and the 7-7 record between the two teams over their last 14 games against one another speaks to exactly how closely matched these two teams are.
Those who expect a walkover are likely to be disappointed, and if it comes down to a Game Seven, this year it will be at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Clark Griswold and Family had their car stripped, got lost in the desert, needed to deal with Aunt Edna passing away in the backseat, and when they got to Walley World – it was closed. But they refused to take no for an answer, kidnapped John Candy, and finally talked Roy Walley into opening the park just for them.
Finding a way to get what you covet is much more important than the route taken to get it. The Pacers crave a series win over the two-time defending champions. If they covet it enough, they will pay the price needed to attain it. If they don’t, another disappointment awaits.
For 50 weeks, the memory of the Game Seven nightmare in Miami has festered. Tireless work has been done on the court and in the front office, and with Frank Vogel driving the bus instead of the addlepated Griswold this team has arrived at the gates of their Walley World. Can the Pacers kick the gates open to enjoy the fruits of their labor and sacrifice?
Sunday at 3:30p, we all begin the two-week process of finding out together.