The Indiana Pacers advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals last night with a 93-80 win over the Washington Wizards. There were some very intense moments down the stretch of the game, including the Wizards taking a one-point lead on a Bradley Beal three, but the Pacers were able to regroup and get the job done. What three things can be taken away following such a big win?
1. The Pacers’ Brotherhood is Back
Indiana has struggled for the majority of the past three months, but those struggles appear to be going away at the right time. The Pacers were truly playing as a team and for each other last night, and they were keeping each other accountable. Whether it was David West pulling Paul George aside after a stupid turnover or the team banding together and putting arms around each other in timeouts, the Pacers’ camaraderie was back. If the Pacers want to beat LeBron James and the Miami Heat, they are going to need to work together and rely on each other in ways that they haven’t done recently.
2. Remembering the Meaning of Smashmouth Basketball
At the beginning of this season, the Pacers were reminding everyone that they were a “smashmouth” basketball team. That means that they are tough, tenacious, hard working, energetic, and most of all passionate group of players. There haven’t been many games over the second half of the regular season and even at times in the playoffs that any of those characteristics have been found in the Pacers. Indiana was able to close out the Wizards in a dogfight, and they truly remembered the meaning of their identity.
3. Finding a True Leader Once Again
The Pacers have had some identity crisis over the past few months during their struggle, and it has a lot to do with not having a consistent leader on the floor. They haven’t had that one guy who wants the ball every time they need a bucket. Recently, the Pacers have done a “leader by committee” type of approach, but that simply isn’t going to work against the Heat. David West showed up in a huge way in Game 6 last night, and prove that he is still more than capable of taking over a game when his team needs him.
Overall, there were a ton of positives from the win last night that leave room for plenty of optimism heading into the Eastern Conference Finals. The series with the Heat is not going to be easy, but the team is playing the best basketball that we’ve seen from them in quite some time. It will be very interesting to see if they’re able to bond together even more and finally take down LeBron James and reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2000.