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The Inbounds: Indiana and defense of second

Aug 6, 2012, 12:38 PM EDT

Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers - Game Three Getty Images

Welcome to the Inbounds, touching on one big idea, story, or discussion point of the day. 

It’s fine to think the Celtics were the second best team in the East in last year’s playoffs (factoring the Bulls post-Rose injury). I mean, they finished second, right? They pushed the eventual NBA champions to seven games, and were up 3-2 with a chance to close at home. They had to be the second best team in the East.

But they weren’t. Not really.

The most infuriating thing about the current NBA playoff structure, even more so than the fact they continue to hold the conferences as an intelligent means of dividing the field, is the lack of re-seeding every round. Surely in this modern, information superseries of tubes world we have going on, we can get around the travel issues inherent in re-seeding the field after every round. Because what happens can have drastic consequences. Like the Celtics making the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics landed the Hawks in their bracket, and no problem there. They established a mental advantage on the Hawks in Game 2 and the series was over from that point on.

But when Derrick Rose went down and the Sixers managed to Omer-Asik their way to an escape, the field should have been redistributed. The Sixers should have headed to face Miami, while the Pacers and Celtics battled it out. And a little hidden secret? The Pacers were a much better team, even in the playoffs, than Boston.

Celtics fan! Please! Hold your molotov cocktails and pitchforks. The Celtics’ run last season was incredible precisely because it was against such odds. They had so many things going against the, their chances were so unlikely, that it makes it all the more impressive they nearly ran the gamut.

But the Pacers were the better team. Had Boston and Indiana met in the second round as they should have, we could have settled this question. I don’t have any issue with thinking Boston was the better team. That seems pretty obvious. My source of disagreement comes from what we saw from both teams and the unpredictability of the playoffs. The Pacers were in a better position to knock off Miami than Boston was, despite them going down in six, not seven. It’s about the structural makeup of the team. Indiana’s size advantage was first and foremost. They had a legit center in Roy Hibbert, and they have no discernible weak spot in their starting lineup. They had depth and versatility, and the roster makeup to match up with different lineups.

They lost because LeBron James is the best player on the planet. As did Boston.

But regardless of what you think about last year’s playoffs, when we look to the future, the East behind Miami is even more uncertain. There’s Miami, certainly, and a gap, certainly (Jason Terry does not a gap close make, when considering another year on them old bones). But after that it gets nuts. Remember, New York very much looked like the second best team in the East to start last year. They suffered more injury issues than anyone outside of Chicago, and their defense was playoff-good. Who knows how good the Nets can be if everything falls into place for them? Chicago is a question mark, but that defense will hold them together.

But Boston in the prohibitive favorite to be second in the East. They added Jason Terry, get Jeff Green back, throw in Courtney Lee, retain Chris Wilcox. I’ve written about how good they can be next year.

But age can still take its toll. Age is like Jaws, it doesn’t give you warning, it just takes your legs. And though the supporting cast of the Celtics has gotten younger, what drove that team last year was the play of Kevin Garnett, with Paul Pierce in spurts. Rajon Rondo is the chef, without him, there’s no meal. But the younger players are the appetizers, the garnish, the desert. The meal is still KG and the Truth. And there’s no way of telling when those players will start playing their age. Maybe they never will. Maybe they’ll defy all odds. Garnett certainly takes offense to any assessment that he’s old. But you have to watch it, carefully.

Indiana continues to slip beneath the radar. You can throw out the Darren Collison trade as a reason they’ll fall to the side, but George Hill played well for most of the season, and they added more size in Ian Mahinmi. Again, in an East where Dwight Howard is the only other legitimate center in the playoff picture, the Pacers have the second best center and a quality legit center. They have an armada of versatile forwards. And they get another full season to play together.

Indiana could take a step backwards. Like Philadelphia, it’s possible they simply benefited from the shortened season’s hammering of teams like Boston and throwing the season into chaos. Boston can very well take that step forward. But when you look at Danny Granger’s comments, you recognize their awareness of how close they were. Indiana went at Miami with everything they had. They weren’t intimidated or just happy to be there. They truly believed they could win that series. And they almost pulled it off.

Boston hung with Miami because they’re specifically well-tailored to combat James and the Heat. Indiana hung because they’re really that good of a team.

This all seems irrelevant, though, when you look at Miami and what they bring to the table next year. A full actualized LeBron James, a healthier Dwyane Wade, a resurgent Chris Bosh who understands how he fits, a core with more confidence, and Ray Allen. The gap is not narrow between Miami and the rest of the East. But the rest of the teams are just waiting for one of those seasons when something happens to move Miami off the top block. Then it would be a mad scramble. Most would have confidence in Boston. But to ignore what Indiana brings to the table is dangerous.

Had reseeding occurred last season, we might view Indiana as the kind of powerhouse we view Boston as. But as it stands, they seem ready to fill into a familiar slot, as a great team full of likable players who are lost in the shine of the championship team right above them.

No. 2, though? That’s a fight they’re prepared for.

The most interesting question between the two may be who has the most they can figure out to unlock potential. Indiana was in their first year together with David West and George Hill. Boston of course has the remaining Big 3 which know each other but have a number of new elements. You could say there’s a lot to unlock for this new Celtics team, but there’s still a ton of room for Indiana to unearth in its identity.

Under the context of a normal season with normal rest and normal practice, that may be the deciding factor in who winds up closest to the throne.

  1. alildusty - Aug 6, 2012 at 1:29 PM

    Hands down…..Boston > Indiana

    • istillbelieveinblue - Aug 7, 2012 at 11:33 AM

      Is Boston better than Indiana? One can certainly make a compelling argument to that end, but “hands down”? No way. The Pacers are dangerous, underestimate them at your own peril.

  2. donfelder440 - Aug 6, 2012 at 2:01 PM

    I have long said a legitimate big man is the best way to stop these Frankenteams that are the product of collusion between a bunch of scoring wing players to team up together. So I agree with that underlying theme of your theory.

    But Indiana is definitely not clearly better (and probably not better at all) than Boston, especially sans Collison. Granger and West have more to prove in the playoffs (I kept waiting for 1 of them to have a MONSTER game in that Heat series), and George Hill is absolutely TERRIBLE. I was going nuts seeing them play him so much. Once the series started slipping away, Collison was their best hope and they didn’t give him enough burn.

    Sorry. I’ll go with Boston til proven otherwise. And boy do I hate Boston sports, so don’t think I’m biased in favor of them.

  3. liljere24 - Aug 6, 2012 at 3:13 PM

    (Jason Terry does not a gap close make, when considering another year on them old bones).

    Do I even have to say whats wrong with that? I mean REALLY!!!

  4. passerby23 - Aug 6, 2012 at 3:15 PM

    Don’t like re-seeding. The playoffs are about who is playing the best at that time of year. If you can’t beat the team in front of you, then you don’t deserve a re-seeding anyway. The Houston Rockets of ’95, the Knicks of ’99, the Mavs of ’11, and so on didn’t win by re-seeding. They simply beat all the “better” teams in front of them, which proves that they were ultimately the best team.

    Star power is what wins in the playoffs. Sooner or later, the Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets of the league lose. When is the last time you saw a team devoid of a true star make it to the conference finals? The only team I can think of is the Detroit Pistons of 2004, which we can safely call an anomaly.

    You can say the Pacers would beat Boston, but what if New York was the 6th seed? Would they have beaten Indiana? Maybe. If Indiana loses in the first round to New York, would you be saying they were better than Boston? Probably not. Then the story changes to “Indiana overachieved in the regular season, you need a star to win, they lack experience, etc.”

    People always use these individual matchups to say one team is better. Eastern Conference semifinals was about the ceiling for the Pacers all season. Boston has been there, done that.

  5. aboogy123456 - Aug 6, 2012 at 4:07 PM

    Indiana should be trying to defend third seed from the Nets because they are clearly behind Boston and Miami.

    I think what’s holding Indiana back from getting to the next level is Danny Granger. He’s a really good player, but his style of play will not get them far in the playoffs. He takes too many shots, and if he’s not shooting the ball he’s not really special at any other part of the game to make a difference. Paul George has way more potential, and he needs more shots and opportunity on the wing, and granger holds that back. If I were the pacers I would try to find the best point guard I could get for granger, and if it’s not good enough, then trade him for high picks or build up assets.

    Indiana is looking more like the hawks for the last few years, a solid team with a lot of good players, but they don’t have that star player to push them over the top. I do like granger as a player, but he can’t be the best player on a team that wants to contend.

  6. jjordannba - Aug 6, 2012 at 4:49 PM

    Boston was clearly better than Pacers last season the Pacers were soft. And the Celtics had it easy because they played the Hawks in the 1st round, are we forgetting who the Pacers played in the 1st round, THE WORST TEAM IN THE WHOLE PLAYOFFS-THE MAGIC. Without Dwight Howard, that’s a lottery team in the East

  7. isd87 - Aug 6, 2012 at 5:30 PM

    When on earth were the Knicks the 2nd best team in the East? Did I blink and miss it?

  8. sellahh - Aug 6, 2012 at 6:33 PM

    Yeah, yeah. You only compare line-ups, players and squat. You don’t include mental toughness in the equasion and do i need to say who has more? The Celtics would mop the floor up with the Pacers. You know why? Remind yourselves of Pacers’ players comments like ‘we don’t think we get the credit we deserve’ after they were up 2-1. If any of Boston players ever said something like that publicly, Doc would tear his head off and KG would …. inside… RIGHTFULLY SO. Pacers might have been the better team… on paper – and that’s as far as it gets. KG would make them cry and, again, I’m a Laker fan.

  9. halfbaht - Aug 6, 2012 at 7:04 PM

    Wow, shocking to find another anti-Boston article from a pro-LeBron and pro-heat source. Indiana better than the Celts? Please. And you’re making comments about KG, Pierce and Terry being old? Have you taken a look at the Heat lately? They’re the leagues oldest average aged team. It’s like a retirement village down there in Miami. I’d rather take a risk on JT’s “old bones” than on that Judas Ray Allen’s busted ankles

    • dell444 - Aug 6, 2012 at 8:55 PM

      “Boston hung with Miami because they’re specifically well-tailored to combat James and the Heat. Indiana hung because they’re really that good of a team.” That’s your quote Matt Moore. Look I’m no Boston fan, but Matt clearly knows nothing. How can u call the Pacers the second best team in the east, but say they’re not good enough to compete with the likes of Miami.

      “Remember, New York very much looked like the second best team in the East to start last year. They suffered more injury issues than anyone outside of Chicago, and their defense was playoff-good”.
      What??? Second best team! The Knicks were the 7th or 8th best team during the 2012 season. They suffered more injuries than anyone outside of Chi? Boston lost Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox, J.O’Neal and Avery Bradley for the entire season.

      The Pacers were definitely a sleeper team last season, but dirt can be easily thrown on that notion. Let’s be honest Matt and Pacers fans, the Pacers got the third seed by default. The Magic were a lock for the 3rd seed, but dropped because of DH12 season ending back injury, Hedo Turkelo and Ryan Anderson missing the last games of the regular, let’s be real here.

      Look, I don’t like to cite media bias, but reading this article and others in the past you clearly u don’t like the Celtics. For whatever reason you don’t like the Celtics. You can point out there flaws like most teams have, but single them out with such bias and falsehoods is unfortunate especially as a journalist. I’m saying this as someone from NYC that can care less about anything Boston.

    • sellahh - Aug 6, 2012 at 10:19 PM

      Is it me or does ‘oldest average aged team’ sound like bull****?

      • nycalldayz - Aug 6, 2012 at 10:51 PM

        Naw it’s Matt Moore and others like him. The age argument is false. If was an issue or factor, then the Lakers, Spurs, Pistons, Mavs, Celtics and Heat would not made it the finals more than once the past decade. I don’t understand the age argument, because it holds no merit. If age is such an issue for teams like the Celtics or even Spurs, then why did both make it to the final four of the eastern and western conference finals, just saying.

        If youth triumphs age, then OKC would be 2012 NBA Champions, but they’re not. The older and more experienced Miami Heat prove to be better and more prepared. The age argument by sports writers like Moore is false and myth. It’s just a cheap way to validate an argument that can’t be made.

    • istillbelieveinblue - Aug 7, 2012 at 11:36 AM

      They may be the oldest average aged team, but that number is skewed by vets like Juwaun Howard. They have young studs like LBJ, Bosh and D-Wade, so that number is misleading.

  10. dell444 - Aug 6, 2012 at 9:17 PM

    The Inbounds: Indiana and defense of second? Even Boston haters can see this article is bogus. You’re like Adrian Wojnarowski is to Lebron, but just the Celtics hater version. This article has no merit. How are the Pacers better than the Celtics? To my knowledge both teams split the reg season series 2-2. The Celtics lead the regular season series 3-2 against the best team in the east and league, Miami Heat. The Pacers finished third in the east. But the Pacers got the third seed due to Dwight being done for the season. The Celtics at one point were a 7th seed, but finished 4th and won their division. Let me see…

    Some other facts Matt’s missing: The Pacers re-signed Hibbert, signed Augstin, Ian Mahinmi, but lost Collison, Barbosa and Amundson. The Celtics re-signed KG, Bass and signed Lee, Green, Wilcox, Terry and Collison. The Hawks were a deeper team than the Magic with or without DH12. The Celtics gave up HC to the Hawks and still won the series. The Pacers played a dysfunctional small size Magic team with no Howard, Van Gundy out the door and etc.

    The Pacers younger, bigger and deeper than both Miami and Boston, but lost in 6. The Celtics were older, depleted and injured than both Miami and Indy took the Heat 7. And it was a competitive 7 game series. I’ll take the Heat, Celtics, Knicks and even Nets beating the Pacers in a 7gm series. All these teams could possibly finish behind the Pacers in the standings and still beat them in a playoff series.

    Get off the glass pipe Matt Moore.

  11. nycalldayz - Aug 6, 2012 at 11:20 PM

    I thought this article was suppose to be about the Pacers being the second best team heading into next season, but the writer of the article seems to be more focused on the Celtics? As a New Yorker I shouldn’t be defending anything Boston or Indy. But as a reader and fan of the game this article just reeks of myths. There’s no question the Pacers were more consistent than the Celtics last season. The Pacers were bigger, younger and had a deeper bench the Celtics. The Celtics struggled throughout the entire first half of the regular season. The Celtics improved in the second half and had the second best record of the second half as well.

    I look at the 2013 eastern conference standings and teams like the Hawks, Raptors, Bucks, Sixers and Bulls made no improvements. How can the Pacers be better than the Celtics heading into 2013? The Pacers lost Collison, Jones, Barbosa, and Amundson. The Celtics re-signed KG, Bass and signed Terry, Lee, Wilcox, Green, Collison, Melo, Sullinger. Anyone with brain can see the Celtics gained where as the Pacers lost and lost a lot.

    The Pacers had an easier post-season than the Celtics in my opinion others might disagree. The Pacers faced a the Magic without Howard. The Celtics faced a deep Hawks team with 3 all-stars in Horford, Smith and Johnson. The Celtics didn’t have HCA in that series, but still won. As far as the Bulls not making the 2nd round. The Celtics have nothing to do with that. The Bulls still had enough to beat the Sixers. The Bulls managed well through the entire regular season without Rose, but couldn’t beat the Sixers without Rose in the post-season. C’mon!

    Not a fan of the Celtics, but give them credit they took care of business. They were dealt the cards given and seized the opportunity. They just played like crap in game 6 of ECF, but Lebron played like gold. The Celtics were the better team in the ECF in games 2,3,4,5 and 7. The Heat just executed better in the final minutes of game 7. Something isn’t right with Moore’s statements. I’m just saying, folks.

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