From the euphorias of December to the disappointments of March, there was only one way this season would either end — or continue — for the Indiana Pacers.
In a Game 7.
From hoisting an NBA Finals trophy in June, to being exiled from the NBA Playoffs by an eighth seed. From tweaking your team in the offseason, to having a fire sale. From re-signing Frank Vogel to a multi-year contract extension, to interviewing the likes of Stan Van Gundy and Lionel Hollins.
That’s what at stake tonight. Game 7.
“Game Seven,” paired together are the two most beautiful words in the sports world, for any sports fan. It’s exciting, frightening and awesome all at the same time. It’s exc-eni-me…OK that was bad. But, most importantly, it’s unpredictable.
Anything can happen in a Game 7.
These games can be determined by cold-shooting, hot-shooting, role players, bench play, coaching, officiating but, more often that not, it comes down to the guys that have got you there.
As Dickie V says, PTPers (Prime Time Players) — the LeBron James’, Kevin Durant’s and the Kobe Bryant’s of the world.
We’ve seen great Game 7 performances in the past from some of the best players in history — from LeBron James to Magic Johnson; from Tim Duncan to Kevin Garnett; from Shaquille O’Neal to Bill Russell.
Then you have your less climatic Game 7′s…enter Pacers vs Hawks.
Still a Game 7, just not with an abundant of star power — unless we’re counting Jeff Teague, Mike Scott, Lance Stephenson and Chris Copeland as stars.
Nevertheless, it’s not smaller to either of these teams. The Hawks didn’t even want to make the playoffs, now they’re one win away from advancing to the second round.
The Pacers never imagined to be struggling the way they have against an eighth seed, and here we are.
Roy Hibbert has had more run on the side of milk carton’s than he has had on the court for the Pacers. Through the first six games, Hibbert is averaging 29 minutes per game (only 12 in the last two), four points per game and three rebounds per game. In games five and six, he was a combined 0-for-3 from the field.
The only thing that has kept the Pacers afloat in this series (wow, that sounds strange) has been the play of Paul George and Lance Stephenson.
Stephenson is averaging 14 points and six rebounds on 50 percent shooting from the field; George is averaging 22 points per game, seven rebounds on 36 percent shooting from three. Without them, Indiana would be dead-er (I know that’s not a word) in the water.
Then, in a way, it’s the way it should be.
This is the bed that the Pacers have made for themselves. This is the monster that they’ve created. Indiana chose to treat the regular season as a sprint; they were openly stating that in preseason. They accomplished that by getting the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but at what cost?
Hibbert looks worse than a fish that is flipping, flopping around on its last breath. He’s worn down, he’s spent and he’s mentally out of it — at least that’s what it looks like.
Indiana didn’t want to follow the Miami blueprint on how to win a championship. They didn’t want to coast through the regular season, and leave homecourt advantage to chance. Now, they’re paying for it.
Now the Pacers have one game that will either make their season or break it. Back in October, there was one goal written in the collective minds of the Pacers: “BEAT THE HEAT IN THE ECF.”
Everyone expected that matchup, and many predicted the Pacers to get over the hump that is LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. What they didn’t expect, however, is the grind that they had to overcome before — psychologically and physically.
Indiana is on its last legs. They’re hobbling towards the finish line, and aren’t even close.
They’re the hare in this race. And, like the hare, their defeat (or win by default) will be poetic justice.