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Pacers learn painful lessons on path to much bigger wins

Jun 4, 2013, 1:56 AM EDT

Indiana Pacers' Hibbert and Hill react during Game 7 of their NBA Eastern Conference final basketball playoff against the Miami Heat in Miami AP

That the Pacers were in a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals with a young team — one that had to adapt on the fly to losing their leading scorer from last year Danny Granger just days before the season started — is more than just a bright sign for the future.

Monday night sucked for Pacers fans, but they have to know the next few years will not. This is a good team.

Through adversity teams grow — and Indiana has grown into one of the NBA’s best teams. Next season their core will be back , their defense will improve with familiarity and they will grow from this experience.

“We’ve gone through a lot, with Danny being out from the beginning of the season,” Roy Hibbert said in his televised post game interview. “David (West), Paul (George) and George (Hill) really stepped up and we won a lot of games. They matured, we finished strong toward the end of the season and we had one heck of a run.

“It’s unfortunate we lost, but I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”

Teams need to learn to win in the NBA (even Michael Jordan had to get his head handed to him three straight years by the Pistons before he and his teammates learned what it took to win it all). Monday night was one of those lessons, about reaching another level when it is all on the line. These lessons are a punch to the gut, but the best teams grow from them. Miami didn’t fully adopt the small-ball style that got them a title last year and back to the finals this year until Chris Bosh went down against the Pacers in the playoffs last year. Then they did it out of necessity.

Injuries can help a team define who they really need to be. That seemed to happen to the Pacers this season.

The loss of Granger meant Paul George got thrust into a bigger role as the ball handler and primary scorer — and he thrived, putting together his best season as a pro and becoming the league’s Most Improved Player. Then the playoffs became his national coming out party — a guy who played his college ball in little-watched Fresno and his professional ball in small market Indiana burst on the national scene. LeBron James was praising him. He looked like a future MVP.

George Hill took another step forward as the versatile if untraditional point guard. Roy Hibbert struggled early in the season — a combination of a wrist injury and self-imposed pressure after getting a max contract — but by the end of the season and certainly through the playoffs he looked like a center deserving a max deal.

David West is a pro’s pro that gives this team steady professionalism, not to mention steady points and rebounds. He’s a free agent but said after the game he can’t imagine himself anywhere else, and the Pacers plan to bring him back.

There are certainly questions for the Pacers this summer.

West is a free agent and while both sides are saying all the right things a deal still needs to be worked out (and other teams will try to poach him). George is eligible for an extension for his rookie deal and you can expect a four-year max (which would not kick in until the season after next).

But if the Pacers are paying Hibbert and George and West, can they continue to pay Danny Granger and stay under the tax line?

Also, the Pacers need to find depth — in the playoffs their starting five (Hill, George, Lance Stephenson, West, Hibbert) played 415 minutes and were an average of +14.6 per 48 minutes. But their bench lineups were a disaster and so none played more than 35 minutes all postseason. This is really two years in a row the lack of depth has been an issue in Indiana — they need to find some quality depth. Guys coach Frank Vogel can put out on the court and not instantly feel like he needs a single-malt scotch to calm his nerves.

But the core of a contender is there, and that is the hard part to put together. And it’s a young core, one that will just get better and better the more they play together.

Which should make Pacers fans very happy. And the rest of the East very nervous.

  1. thundersandpackers - Jun 4, 2013 at 1:59 AM

    NEXT YEARS FINALS
    THUNDERS VS PACERS BOOK IT

    • hehateme2 - Jun 4, 2013 at 7:43 AM

      Well…. congrats pacers. You got further than anyone in their right mind would have thought. Hope you learned your lesson when playing with the Big Boy.

      • dexterismyhero - Jun 4, 2013 at 7:59 AM

        I bet your boyfriend hates u 2. and by the way….Quit flopping!!!

      • stlouis1baseball - Jun 4, 2013 at 9:41 AM

        You did a great job with that first sentence. Actually showing some class.
        Then you screw it all up with that last sentence.
        Ya’ buy the boy books and he rips the pages out of em.’
        Come on little feller’…you can do better.

    • WatchThis - Jun 4, 2013 at 10:04 AM

      This is the Finals we all wanted, well, except for the Spurs.

  2. rawgator06 - Jun 4, 2013 at 3:38 AM

    Are we going to have to hear about how much the Pacers learned every year after they lose to the Heat? I kind of remember the “big step forward” articles from last year..

    • remmsterr - Jun 4, 2013 at 4:10 AM

      Making it to the Eastern Conference Finals and taking the defending NBA Champions to a game 7 isn’t a “big step forward” in your opinion?

    • nbascreed - Jun 4, 2013 at 7:03 AM

      His point is that you need a win now mentality. And yes the loser serenade was all about “next year” last year when these guys were dismissed.

      • remmsterr - Jun 4, 2013 at 12:26 PM

        You need a win now mentality? You think the Pacer players and coaches didn’t haveva “win now” mentality and were just like “Well, we made it this far! We’ll just lay down now – we’ll take a bigger step next season guys!” Obviously the Pacers have been making HUGE steps the last few seasons; going from a team that didn’t make the playoffs in ’10-’11, to to actually being up last year on the Heat 3-2 in the second round and now pushing the Heat to a game 7 and being one win away from the NBA Finals. The sky’s the limit for this team.

      • yuwannano - Jun 4, 2013 at 1:41 PM

        If the Pacers DIDN’T have a “win now” mentality, they would’ve just rolled over and gotten swept.

    • ryanrockzzz - Jun 4, 2013 at 7:57 AM

      Keep it coming, you obviously are a sports psychic…….I would say the Pacers pushing the Heat to 7, is a huge step forward. I’d like to hear how that’s not the case.

    • stlouis1baseball - Jun 4, 2013 at 9:42 AM

      Right…because they took a step forward last year. This…another step forward.
      See how this works?

  3. cubb1 - Jun 4, 2013 at 5:29 AM

    Lebron will be wearing a Pacer uniform in 2014-15

  4. lemfaxx - Jun 4, 2013 at 6:23 AM

    Spurs vs heat finally my dream final match-up since 2011 come true!!!

  5. anhdazman - Jun 4, 2013 at 6:46 AM

    It all depends on the front office having enough patience to keep the main core together. OKC broke up Harden and an unfortunate injury to Westbrook bounced them out. It wasn’t a sure thing that a healthy Westbrook could have knocked off the Spurs.

    Salary cap is a also a big issue. Injuries are also a part of the game, so I’m not so incline to just book it for any team.

  6. davidly - Jun 4, 2013 at 6:57 AM

    Spot on, Kurt. Bulls/Pistons was what I was thinking, too, as well as Pistons/Celtics from just before that.

    If they keep West and Granger comes back healthy, I think that will go a ways to give them depth. One has to keep in mind that they aren’t going to be able to dish out much more for talent, so they are going to have to do it the way they have so far with the current roster: player development.

    I think that Heat, Bulls, Pacers are going to be a scary trio next season.

  7. canehouse - Jun 4, 2013 at 7:16 AM

    Great Series! Maybe we will see ya next year.

  8. mungman69 - Jun 4, 2013 at 7:16 AM

    When you get this close you gotta win.

  9. jbeagles23 - Jun 4, 2013 at 8:29 AM

    Because nothing in sports is guaranteed. That pacer squad may never get back to the ecf. This year is over for them and they could just as easily go back as they could forward

  10. beachsidejames - Jun 4, 2013 at 8:42 AM

    I really liked Hibbard until the last couple of days . The comments he was fined for are one thing but that can just be a slip up mistake. But when you lose a fight you shake hands at the end. #24 ,the coach and the kid from Brooklyn showed alot of class at the end. Theteam that beats you will represent your conference against the west. Especially the coach showed alot of classat the end.

  11. gmsalpha - Jun 4, 2013 at 9:13 AM

    About paying Danny Granger….the Pacers got to a game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals without Danny Granger. Do they really need him?

    And if they had him, they’d have had at least a great 6th man. I can only imagine how different things would be if he had been playing. But he wasn’t. And they still got this far.

    And the Heat are a one-man show with ancient role players. The Knicks are a one-man show with ancient role players. The Celtics are old. I don’t trust the Nets.

    The Spurs (core) are old. The Lakers are old and Howard might not even be there next year.

    I am not as confident as the first poster here, but I can at least realistically see a Pacers/Thunder series in the next 3 years.

  12. jzone954 - Jun 4, 2013 at 9:42 AM

    Great team. Tons of respect to them , only thing is they rely to much on the starting 5 to win. They need legit bench help and of they can get it……they be even better

  13. chicagofan - Jun 4, 2013 at 9:54 AM

    The main lessons should be learned by their coach. 1. Don’t take Hibbert off the floor in crunch time–it cost them game one and the series. 2. You cannot take Hibbert and Paul George off the floor at the same time in a big game–George should have played without rest–he is 23 yrs old and putting him and Hibbert on the bench in game 7 allowed Miami to build a lead that could have been prevented with his 2 best players on the floor. The coach lost this series and I like him but he is young and showed it.

    • stlouis1baseball - Jun 4, 2013 at 11:46 AM

      I was going to give you a thumbs up…until I read the last sentence.

  14. mannyicey - Jun 4, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    First of all, the Pacers needs a bonafide #1. A strong #1 should help decrease the turnovers because that’s what killed them. Not to say that George Hill isn’t a good player, but he’s a SG, not a PG. They need someone who is a leader to play the PG who will take care of the ball and make sure that the spacing is right on offense.

    Other than that, I actually see nothing wrong with the Pacers. Move Hill to the 2 and get a veteran PG. That’s a championship team.

    • jamieaadams - Jun 4, 2013 at 1:03 PM

      You’ve hit the nail on the head. Hill is a good player, and seems like a genuinely good guy, but they can’t win with him at the 1.

      Also, they have to get some offensive on the bench. Granger would help, if they keep him. Question is, can they sign West, keep Granger, and improve the point? Probably not.

  15. yourpalkyle - Jun 4, 2013 at 4:22 PM

    If I were running the Pacers I would make a serious play for CP3, then trade GHill for a nice backup big and a first round pick. Imagine this team with a healthy Granger and Chris Paul, running the show, the Heat would be cooked.

  16. deeballer - Jun 5, 2013 at 12:18 AM

    I’m sure the Heat will change nothing after this close series with the Pacers and allow the Pacers to surpass them in the East. I can see Riley already forming a plan to prevent a close series like this. anhdazman is dead on about the Pacers management being able to keep everyone together due to the changing financial landscape of the NBA. There are injuries that will happen and you need enough money to have a bench that can give you quality minutes. It’s a lot to sustain a consistent winning team nowadays.

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