The 2018 Pacers: Pure Guts, Pure Soul, Pure Fun

It’s a Wednesday edition of Pacers Tuesday, because I wanted to see what happened with the return of Domantas Sabonis and the game at the Santa Cruz Warriors before deciding on an angle this week.

And then Domas shot 3-of-3 from the field, scored seven points, grabbed six rebounds, and dished three assists in a 92-81 win.

But that’s not what jumped out at me.

What jumped out at me was the Pacers’ 92-81 win after trailing by 15 points in the second quarter. It’s the seventh time this season Indiana’s been down 15 or more in a game and come back to win.

And sure, this is the new NBA where “no 20-point lead is safe,” sometimes not even in the fourth quarter, but even by that standard it’s pretty impressive.

Indiana won the second half 53-33. They won the fourth quarter 24-11. This was a closeout to end all closeouts, the kind of game that last year’s joyless team with a sulking Paul George would have packed in and given up on.

The first sign of things to come came back in November; the Pacers trailed the Pistons by 22 in the third quarter. They won the ballgame.

Later, they trailed the wretched Nets by 19 in the first half; Indy won that game 123-119 in overtime.

And against Denver, they trailed 53-34 in the first half but went on a 20-0 run later in that contest to wipe out the deficit and not just win in overtime, but win by 10. That’s a 29-point swing in barely three quarters total of basketball.

Pacers fans can watch this team knowing that no matter how bad they look at any point, Victor Oladipo will get hot or Lance Stephenson will come off the bench and heat-check his way to 10 points before you can blink, and fans watching the game at home will hear Chris Denari’s voice rise in pitch just a little and Quinn Buckner start to lose his mind searching for words to describe what he’s seeing…and everything just gets a little brighter in the world.

Remember when the 2015-16 Pacers went into Golden State after having gone 11-2 in November and just got their souls ripped out in a game that was only as close as it was (131-123) because Indiana outscored the Warriors 40-20 in a fourth quarter that featured all the Warriors’ best players watching the game on the bench because it was over in the first quarter when the Dubs went on a 22-0 run to erase a six-point deficit and build a 16-point lead they would never relinquish?

The Warriors scored 79 points in the first half of that one, and that was a Frank Vogel-coached Pacers squad that was a top-five defense.

Or how about the smackdown in Oakland last year, the one where the Warriors won 142-106 and Klay Thompson hung 60 on the Pacers’ defense? That one didn’t even have the redemption of a fourth-quarter comeback. It was just a weapons-grade beatdown where Golden State scored 80 in the first half and Indiana just rolled over and died.

To go into Oakland and hold the Warriors to 81 points, not in the first half, but in the game? Who cares that Klay didn’t play? Or Stephen Curry, or Kevin Durant, or Draymond Green? Everything the PG13-led Pacers weren’t, this team is.

The last time Indiana made the Eastern Conference Finals, that magical 2013-14 season where the team started 16-1, Danny Granger was the spiritual leader (even though his game was washed up), Lance made ’em dance, and George was able to do his thing without the burden of leadership on his shoulders.

Not for nothing did Indiana fall apart down the stretch in the regular season (they were 16-14 after the All-Star Game with clubhouse cancer Evan Turner acquired in the Granger trade with Philadelphia); they made the ECF based mainly off the conference being that weak and the Pacers sneaking into the 1 seed.

That was Paul George’s Pacers. From the moment he had to be The Man in Indy, the team was, on average and per 82 games, a 43.5-win team. The year he was injured for essentially the entire season, the team went 38-44.

This year? These are Victor Oladipo’s Pacers. They’re just two wins away from “the best record since 2013-14.” They turn massive deficits into big wins. They never give up on a game no matter how badly they’re playing, even when they ultimately lose (remember that garbage game in New Orleans last week when the defense nearly bailed out the second-worst shooting performance of the year? PG13’s Pacers would’ve lost that game by 40.)

It’s hard to describe just how much grit this year’s Pacers have. But if they can sneak into the 3 seed in the East, avoid Toronto in the second round, and stand just a Kyrie Irving extended injury recovery away from the Eastern Conference Finals?

Man, it feels good to be a Pacers fan.