The Indiana Pacers are a tease.
And their fans are tiring of it.
My wife surprised me Monday night after Game 1 between the Pacers and Washington Wizards when she proclaimed “I wish the Pacers had lost to the Hawks.”
The Pacers beat the Atlanta Hawks four games to three in the first round of the playoffs, and it may have been an extreme reaction in the immediate post-game let down, but I think my wife—a lifelong Hoosier and relatively rabid sports fan—echoed the sentiment of more than a few Pacers fans.
The Blue and Gold faithful are tired of the mind-blowing let downs they’ve experienced in the last couple of months in general and in the post-season in particular.
Local fans are savvy enough to realize there are going to be some setbacks on the road through the playoffs. But it’s not like the Pacers are losing to great opponents.
The Pacers first two playoff opponents could be classified as mediocre. For all the props Washington gets for being a young up-and-coming team, I’m not at all convinced the Wizards could beat any of the teams remaining in the Western Conference.
The Pacers, meanwhile, are simply laying eggs. And the fans—a good many who departed Bankers Life Fieldhouse well before the game ended—realize it. (For the record, I never promote leaving a game, any game, before the final whistle blows.)
Maybe it wouldn’t sting so badly if the Pacers didn’t tease their fans with flashes of their true potential. Many Pacers followers felt after games 6 and 7 against the Hawks, the team was finally out of its slump and on its way to a re-match with the vaunted Miami Heat.
Then came Game 1 of the Washington series and it was—to quote Yogi Berra—déjà vu all over again. Ugh. It was a game which sadly had some Pacers fans wishing this nauseating roller coaster ride was over.
It’s too bad for the Pacers from a business perspective too. This is the time of year when an NBA team wants to put its best foot forward. It’s the time of year that a lot of people are sampling the NBA product. It's the time of year, that even if you lose, you want to go down valiantly showing you have promise for next year.
The Pacers have sold out each of their five playoff games so far, and have attracted a much bigger TV audience than normal. Some of those ratings might have even surprised Pacers and network officials.
Consider, the Pacers first-round playoff games this year generated three of the six all-time biggest TV audiences to watch a Pacers game on Fox Sports Indiana. That goes back to 1996.
Game 6 of the Pacers-Hawks series scored a 10.4 rating (115,000 households) and peaked at 14.6 (160,000 households) on Fox Sports Indiana. That’s the highest rated Pacers game on the cable network, and more than double the audience size for a Pacers regular season game. Even more central Indiana residents tuned in (125,000 to 145,000 households) to Game 7 against Atlanta on Saturday and Game 1 against Washington Monday on TNT.
The Pacers sales staff is fervently trying to use this postseason to ramp up sales for next year. On Monday, I’m not sure the Pacers players gave sales boss Todd Taylor and his staff much to sell.
Of course, one game does not make a series. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Pacers rise from the ashes in Game 2 on Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, only 500 tickets remained for the game, and Pacers officials are confident it will sell out.
Beyond that, who knows?
One thing is certain, though. It’s crunch time for this Pacers unit.
It’s time for them to prove they’re true championship contenders. It’s time once and for all for this group of players to win over this community the way the Pacers of the late 1990s did. Because I’m not sure Pacers fans have the stomach for many more emotional free falls.