Well, it's been an interesting first 2 weeks of the season. Chicago and Brooklyn, both looking primed for deep playoff runs, are faltering. The Sixers and their rookie is taking the NBA by storm. Anthony Davis is putting up monster numbers. And then there's the Indiana Pacers.
I have been a Pistons fan since I began watching the NBA. The intensity of my fandom picked up in Grant Hill's last season with Detroit (1999-00). It was a new era without any of the Bad Boys (Joe Dumars retired) and the Pistons looked primed to take off after a very close series in 1999 with the Atlanta Hawks. It never materialized, but I digress. My point to telling you this is that I watched the Indiana Pacers with a close eye from the moment they traded for Jermaine O'Neal. They were where we wanted to be in 2000-01, the 8th seed. Games were always competitive with them. I called them rivals back in 2001. When the schedule was released in the summer of 2004, after the Pistons had won their third (and last) Championship, and were poised for another run, I circled November 19, 2004 on my calendar. I told everyone at my job that I didn't want to know the outcome until I came home that night.
This was no ordinary sporting event. It became a defining moment for me. It would lead to some serious soul searching about the kind of basketball team I wanted to see. It took a lot of years to study what was effective, and what would win. My conclusion was that I liked a team that was competitive, but didn't look to berate their opponent. That's just demeanor.
What I like is rebounding, second-chance offense, good defense, and players that are consistently playing at a high level (and execute the team concept). See, when you rebound the basketball, you give yourself an extra possession while taking one away from your opponent. They can play lockdown defense and you have an extra possession where it's easier to spread the floor because it's scramble defense. I came to the conclusion that basketball is a game of inches (an inch or two, the ball is out of the rim, an inch or two and you don't have a good angle at the basket, etc). Pursuit of the basketball is key. Because defenses are so advanced, you need athleticism, length, and smart players that can see when they have a guy beat, can find the ball, catch, and take a quality shot. The game is incredibly fast; enough that it looks like good teams share a brain, it's that quick.
Accolades mean very little to me. So when Lebron James goes against Paul George, I cheer for the player that can execute and compete. I look like a homer, but I like quality basketball.
All of that is to say that I've watched the Pacers, I've seen the team. From its 2-1 series lead on Miami in 2012 until now, I have said they are one of my favorite teams. I have been harping for 3 years that the Pistons should get Paul George. He's big, can get a step on you, can shoot over a defense, and plays the other side of the court. He shredded the Pistons in a game in 2012 (27 points, 10 rebounds) and it was the way he did it. Ben Gordon and Rodney Stuckey couldn't stay in front of him or get their own shot. He reminded me of a combination of Rip Hamilton's size, and Joe Dumars' game.
I knew last year's Conference Finals were going to be tough because the Pacers are strong where Miami is weak. It's a bad matchup from Miami's perspective. They are built to beat the Heat. I thought Danny Granger would be doing a lot more, but I underestimated Paul, even as I coveted him.
Good for the Pacers, off to a 7-0 start. I cannot wait to see them in prime time again. It warms my heart to see them win.