Pacers reach critical time to showcase character

May 23, 2012
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When the team you’re cheering for is getting clobbered, as the Indiana Pacers were Tuesday night, it’s easy to miss some of the nuances of the game.

I hope local residents watching the Miami Heat run the Pacers out of American Airlines Arena were paying close attention Tuesday. I know it would have been easy to tune out after the first half. But if you did, you might have missed the most important part of the game.

For five plus years, the locals here have been screaming for Pacers owner Herb Simon and player personnel boss Larry Bird to build a team with character.

Despite the clubbing, some of Bird’s finest work was on display last night, and during this series.

Is this team a championship contender? Maybe not. Not this year anyway. But it’s a lot closer than most folks around the NBA thought. The Pacers have certainly been a lot tougher on the court than the Heat anticipated.

But when the crucible of competition got fired up, it would have been easy for one of this team’s most defining characteristics—the one locals have been screaming for most—to have melted away. It did not.

When Tyler Hansbrough got needlessly mugged by Udonis Haslem in the second quarter Tuesday night, he reacted with disgust, but he didn’t react by shouting or punching at Haslem. In many NBA games—and certainly on most playgrounds—a move like that would have ignited a full-on brawl.

The Pacers stood true to their character. Did Hansbrough foul Dwyane Wade hard earlier in the quarter? Yes. But it was a hard foul in the spirit of the game, not in the spirit of trying to hurt Wade.

Has Danny Granger been feisty this series? Guilty as charged. But again, in the spirit of the game. Has Roy Hibbert tenaciously guarded the basket and given a couple of hard fouls? Again, yes, but within the parameters of the game.

Did Lance Stephenson show a lack of class during game three when he made a choking sign as LeBron James missed a free throw? I’ll give you that. Though I didn’t think it was that egregious. I think Reggie Miller’s choking gestures in Madison Square Garden more than a decade ago was much more dramatic.

Still, Stephenson did what people in this market would expect. He, along with Pacers Coach Frank Vogel, apologized for the gesture.

OK, that issue is dead, right? Not according to Jowan Howard, the Miami bench warmer and self-appointed Heat rules enforcer and NBA-knower-of-all-things-right when it comes to player conduct.

Howard pursued Stephenson after the game, at practice the next day and at a shoot-around three days later to let him know just how wrong he was to mock King James.

Really? Howard of all people should not lecture folks on conduct. If you need a refresher course on his behavior, check out ESPN’s documentary about the University of Michigan Fab Five.

And let’s not forget that Stephenson, one of Bird’s pet projects, is 22 years old. Young people make mistakes. The best we can hope is that they recognize those mistakes and apologize for them.

Howard is 39 years old, for crying out loud. Isn’t he a little beyond these antics? Apparently not.

And apparently Howard and his appointed group of hit men didn’t feel they had made their point sharply enough to Stephenson. So when the Pacers were down by more than 20 and with only a few seconds left in Tuesday’s game, the 6-11, 285-pound Dexter Pitman hit the 220-pound Stephenson with a forearm to the throat that should have made fans of both teams shiver.

The hit was a gruesome display and if it doesn’t get Pitman a suspended for at least three games, I’d be surprised.

But again, Stephenson and the rest of the Pacers showed poise and restraint in the face of such violence.

It would be easy for the Pacers to seek revenge during game six at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Thursday. But it would be just that easy to unravel all the hard-earned goodwill Simon, Bird, the coaches and players have built up in this town over the last three years.

Revenge may be viewed as sweet in some markets, but here we expect more of our role model professional athletes.

On Sunday afternoon, more than one in three central Indiana households watching television were tuned in to game four. That’s about 200,000 households, or about 400,000 people.

I expect Bankers Life Fieldhouse to be packed Thursday and throngs to be gathered around TV sets from Terre Haute to Richmond and Bloomington to Lafayette.

The eyes of central Indiana are on the Pacers in numbers they haven’t been since 2000. The way they play could go a long way to selling tickets and boosting this team’s fortunes well beyond this year.

It’s a good time for the Pacers to step up and play like the champions they want to be. It’s also a time to play the way their creator—I’m referring to Bird here—promised they would.

This is the time for the Pacers, whether in victory or defeat, to show fans yet again they are a team of honor, integrity and above all else—character.

  • Well put
    You can be physical, and still have some class. As you noted, Haslem and Pittman were not, those were hatchet jobs...hopefully, both will be suspended for game 6, although David Stern has been so erratic and weird lately that I hope he leaves that diecsion to his underlings...having said all that, the Pacers must stand their ground...they were, as Larry Bird said himself, "soft" in Game 5. They did not respond when Miami punched back...and as we all know, the architect of Miiami's team is Pat Riley, the former Knicks Coach...those series between the Knicks and the Pacers were brutally physical...if these Pacers learn to play like those two teams, we will really have something. All in all, it has been great season, with lots of takes a long time in the NBA. I believe the Pacers will come to play Thursday...being called out by Larry Legend shouldn't sit well...if they can make it a half court game like they did earlier in the series, they have a chance to play one more game...good points made in your article very physical, but not cheap...
  • Toughen up!
    I agree, with you Jim, the Pacers in some cases definitely need to toughen up. I didn't mean to imply otherwise. I think Indianapolis is something of a blue collar town that appreciates a tough team. So the Pacers must stand their ground and play physical without letting it devolve into some sort of wrestling match or worse. With Larry's call-out, I think you'll see that happen.
  • Poud of the Pacers
    Agree AS, it is great to see the Pacers taking the high road. The Heat are supposed to have the 2 best players on the planet and they come across like thugs with the cheap shots and the intimidation. I believe we were down by 2 when Lebron took Granger out like he told his Boyz he wanted to. Those will say going under a guy coming down from a jump shot is incidental. I say Lebron is a precision athlete. I believe he knew what he was doing.
  • Pacers must overcome
    I agree, that it looks like LeBron slid his foot under Danny on purpose. People who play a lot of basketball understand that move quite well. Nevertheless, it's an unfortunate part of the game that the Pacers have to deal with. Besides, the people in this market don't want a dirty team, they want a winning team with character. Just look at the portrayal of this Heat team on their own web site. It's not a roster I would want to back. LeBron and Wade or not.
  • Reall?
    A hometown blog is probably no place for a neutral observer, but somehow google drove me here. As a Warriors fan, I routinely spend May watching other teams play basketball.

    Until Haslem's assault, the Pacers were, in my book, the only team out of bounds. From the coach ("floppers") to Grainger (3 techs!?) to Hansbrough ("spirit of the game" to hit opponent in the head and then rake his face?)...

    Haslem's play was not basketball. And the play at the end should end the playoffs for Pittman. Suspensions for both I say.

    But Pacers need to look in the mirror. To a neutral they seem not innocent but instigators.
    • Really Lee? Neutral?
      Sorry about being a Warriors fan, but if we really look at the items you mentioned about the Pacers, you are a bit off. Vogel calling the Heat out as floppers was nothing but a good tactical decision to call the Heat out for what they routinely do - flop and/or complain enough to get a call. Nothing wrong with getting that in teh refs head before the series starts. As for the 3 techs on Danny Granger, the first 2 were instigated by James putting his elbow up towards DG's face, so if DG took exception to it, I have no problem. I admit the last one wasn't really smart since it was a Wade and Hibbert issue - no reason for him to get involved. Lastly, if you actually watched the Hasbrough foul, he hit the ball first and then Wade pulled it down near his head so TH's arm followed through and caught him on the head. Nothing out of the ordinary except for the fact that it was Wade. If Haslem was making that shot, there wouldn't be any further discussion of it at all.

      In all, I'm proud of the team that is on the floor, the way they are playing and the way our city is rallying back around the Blue & Gold. Go Pacers.
    • No comparison
      Comparing what Frank Vogel did compared to what Haslem did is kind of ridiculous. The Heat have lost another round of fans during this playoff series. Wade, James and the rest of this cast are simply an unlikable group of guys. And their actions reflect that.

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