The Indiana Pacers: This is the Team Bird Built

Photo Credit: ABC News/ESPN

Photo Credit: ABC News/ESPN

Sunday afternoon’s performance against the Miami Heat is exactly what Larry Bird had in mind when crafting the current roster of the Indiana Pacers. He didn’t really care about how they played in the second half of the regular season. He didn’t care about how they played in the first two rounds of the playoffs. As long as they “survived and advanced,” that’s really all that mattered.

Bird built this team with two primary goals in mind: attain the number one seed in the Eastern Conference and utilize this position to dethrone the big, bad Miami Heat. Of course, he would also like to add a ring to his already impressive collection, but after losing to the Heat in seven games last season and six games the season before, despite having leads in both series, Bird knew his Pacers must first get past Miami. Well, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pacers led from start to finish in front of a pleasantly raucous crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana.

But was this really all that unexpected? If you have watched national TV such as ESPN or TNT to get your NBA fix, then yes, of course, Sunday’s performance was absolutely unexpected. Instead of looking at the big picture and how well this Pacers team is constructed for success against the Heat, in particular, major media outlets placed the most emphasis on all that was wrong with the team and how “unpredictable” they had been.

Realistically, not even Pacers fans can really blame them, either. Team chemistry was supposedly disrupted after the trade of Danny Granger. This team had only 12 losses at the All-Star break, yet went a disappointing 10-13 to close out the regular season. Despite backing its way into the playoffs, this team somehow managed to retain the #1 seed over the two-time defending champs. This team needed a full seven games to oust the #8 Atlanta Hawks, who had a losing record in the regular season. At times, this team looked completely over-matched by the backcourt of the Washington Wizards in the second round.

Yet, here they are–up one game to zero over LeBron James and the Heat with three home games left in this series (likely necessary). If you have watched this team on a regular basis over the course of the last three seasons like I have, then nope, Sunday’s performance was not unexpected–at all. This team, and its fan base for that matter, does not like the Heat one bit. For better or for worse, they always seem to play up to the Heat and play down to just about everyone else. Well, at this point, none of that matters. They are playing the Heat, and if they move on, one would assume they’ll be able to play up in the NBA Finals.

A Quick Look at the Roster:

Lance Stephenson, who has been the heart and soul of the team all season, really does not like Miami, and that altercation with Dwyane Wade is only a fraction of it. Unfortunately for the Heat, Stephenson is no longer just a bench player like he was two seasons ago, but rather an impact player that sets the tempo for the rest of the team. His Game 1 stat line (17 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds), especially the assists, did just that–set the tempo for the offense, leading to all five starters scoring in double figures.

Lance was born (ready) to the play the Heat, and when he’s on, the Heat really have no one who can guard him anymore–other than LeBron, one of the league’s best defenders of course, but his main duty is containing Paul George. Wade, with his banged-up knees, can’t do it. Chalmers can’t do it. Battier, at 35 years old, most definitely can’t do it.

And then there’s David West. He has been on a mission all season long and has been willing to shoulder the load throughout an up-and-down playoffs. Now, he faces the Heat who, in short, cannot guard him–largely because they just don’t have a player that can match up with him both down low and on the perimeter/at the elbow. Again, LeBron has proven in the past he can do a good job against West, but unfortunately for the Heat, he cannot guard three players at once.

Thus, the Pacers already have two big match-up problems to exploit before I even discussed their two max-contract guys–George and Roy Hibbert. George is obviously the team’s best player and is on the cusp of NBA stardom, but don’t expect much more than 20-25 points per game, as long as Spoelstra has LeBron guarding him. In terms of Hibbert, well, the Heat don’t really have a center. They signed Greg Oden for this exact reason, but the health of his knees still hasn’t exactly panned out. Hibbert almost disappeared in the Hawks’ series (not unexpected given poor match-ups), but he appears to be pretty much back, and one can expect performances similar to that in Game 1 for the rest of the series.

Finally, George Hill and C.J. Watson. With four capable players already discussed, whatever the team can get out of these two point guards will be a bonus in my mind. Both are capable of extending the floor past the three point line which frees up slashing lanes for Stephenson and George. Both are capable of doing a little bit of slashing of their own, and Hill did a terrific job at this in Game 1–getting to the free throw line six times and making all six. I tend to believe the Heat will put extra focus on containing West the rest of the series, so one of these two players may end up playing a very key role for the Pacers.

Final Thoughts:

The Pacers stunk in the second half of the season and in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but that is very much in the past. Larry Bird built this team to match up well with the Heat, and that is exactly what happened in Game 1 on Sunday. Unfortunately, I do not know how this series is going to play out, but I really do like the Pacers’ chances going forward. Tonight’s Game 2 is crucial, but not critical–for either team. Keep a close eye on how Miami is matching up against West tonight. If he’s locked up, it will likely free up space for Hibbert down low or for one of the two point guards on the perimeter.

Go Pacers!

Until next time…

Joe

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Boston Celtics Hire Brad Stevens, Ronald Nored; Hope to Sign Gordon Hayward?

Photo Credit: Associated Press/Mark J.

Photo Credit: Associated Press/Mark J.

Boston Celtics Rebuilding Process

By NBA standards, the Celtics were old last season. When star point guard, Rajon Rondo, went down with a torn ACL, most fans in Boston realized that it was time. It was time to move forward and start the rebuilding process of one of the most storied NBA franchises ever.

Long-time Celtics, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, were either going to retire or needed to be traded in hopes of bringing in a haul of draft picks to help with the rebuilding process. That is exactly what the Celtics did, but let’s break it down, step-by-step, to see exactly what happened in Boston this summer.

Rebuilding Step #1:

After Doc Rivers was sent to Los Angeles to coach the Clippers in exchange for a first-round draft pick, the Boston Celtics officially started “rebuild mode.” Well, on July 3rd, Danny Ainge implemented step one of the rebuilding process by hiring one of the most successful college coaches, Brad Stevens out of Butler University. Stevens, a fresh face in the NBA, hopes to bring his strong basketball IQ to Boston and have a much more successful NBA career than his predecessors, Rick Pitino and John Calipari.

11-time NBA champion head coach, Phil Jackson, took to Twitter to speak his mind on the signing by Ainge, and here is what he had to say:

philjackson

Thus, the Celtics got their man as head coach, but that was just step one of many moves that needed to be made this off-season.

Rebuilding Step #2:

On June 18th, Drew Cannon, while watching the NBA playoffs, posted the following tweet:

cannon

Little did he know that less than a month later, he would be employed by Boston Celtics.

On July 9th, it was announced that Cannon was following Coach Stevens and joining the Celtics staff. This past season, Cannon, just 23 years old, sat on the bench for the Butler Bulldogs. Before the game, during the game, and after the game, Cannon used mathematical equations and analyzed numbers to help break down what was happening on the court for the Bulldogs.

According to Stevens, Cannon was an “invaluable resource” for Butler–using in-depth research to help with starting lineups and player substitutions throughout the game. This season, Cannon will be doing much of the same, but it will be on a much bigger stage.

Rebuilding Step #3:

On July 12th, the Celtics officially completed the blockbuster trade that sent Garnett, Pierce, Jason Terry, and DJ White to the Brooklyn Nets. In exchange, the Celtics received five players, three first-round draft picks (2014, 2016, 2018), the right to swap first-round picks in 2017, and a trade exception worth nearly $10 million.

Thus, the roster underwent a drastic overhaul with MarShon Brooks being the most important player coming to the Celtics. The reason for the trade was to get younger, clear salary, and get draft picks for the team to utilize in the future.

Rebuilding Step #4:

A little over two weeks after the trade, it was made official that Coach Stevens was adding another Butler person to his Celtics staff. This person was one of his prized recruits in 2008. This person was the team’s point guard and best defender while at Butler, and he played an integral role in helping the Bulldogs reach back-to-back National title games.

This person, by now you already know, is Ronald Nored. Stevens will use Nored in the player development role for the Celtics. One of his main responsibilities will be developing players on the Celtics NBA Development League team, the Maine Red Claws.

Thus, if you include the hiring of Micah Shrewsberry, Coach Stevens has now surrounded himself with three Butler assistants. Four Butler guys in Boston is nice and all, but why not add one more to the mix next summer as well? The Celtics just may have that opportunity next July when a budding NBA star officially becomes a free agent.

Thus…

Rebuilding Step #5?

In 2010, the Utah Jazz drafted Gordon Hayward with the ninth overall pick in the NBA Draft. At the time, he was primarily known for this last second shot against the Duke Blue Devils in the 2010 NCAA Tournament title game.

What most NBA fans did not know was that he was actually a highly skilled small forward with the capability of scoring from all areas on the court. Also, given his 6’8″ athletic frame, he is fully capable of guarding just about anybody–from shooting guards all the way up to power forwards.

Used primarily as the team’s sixth man in his rookie season, Hayward averaged just 5.4 points and 1.9 rebounds per game. However, he has played a more integral role over the past two seasons–averaging around 30 minutes per game. Last year was Hayward’s best year yet–averaging 14.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game.

If you still are not convinced by Hayward’s ability at the NBA level, you may find it helpful to watch these highlights of his 22-point game against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers from a couple seasons ago.

Well, Hayward is in the final year of his rookie contract with the Utah Jazz. Thus, his future with the team is unclear. Based on what the front office has said about him, it is obvious that they want to bring him back to Utah via a long-term contract. However, based on the moves being made in Boston this summer, this may be just a little bit more difficult than they originally would have thought.

Coach Stevens is considered one of the most influential figures in Hayward’s basketball career, and Nored was in his same recruiting class in 2008. Thus, will these two hires by the Celtics be enough to convince Hayward to leave Utah for Boston? This is still to be determined, but the Celtics are definitely making all the right moves at this point.

Concluding Thoughts:

Even if Hayward chooses to stay in Utah or signs with a team not named the Celtics, it is still nice to see that Stevens is surrounding himself with Butler people. Nored and Cannon will not only help Stevens be successful as the Boston head coach, but they will also help expand the Butler University brand as well.

In an 82-game season plus pre-season and possibly playoffs, I bet that announcers and analysts will bring up Butler, their NCAA Tournament runs, and the proverbial “Butler Way” thousands of times, if not more.

Thus, as I wrote in my previous Butler article, Coach Stevens gave so much to the University from 2000 through June 2013. Based on the man that he is, it is only fitting for him to continue helping Butler, even when he is exactly 950 miles away.

Stevens was able to get two banners raised in his time as head coach at Butler (shown below). Let’s hope he can go one step further and get one of the champions variety–the 18th NBA Championship for the Boston Celtics.

Photo Credit: Paul Swaney

Photo Credit: Paul Swaney

Go Dawgs!

Until next time…

Joe

Follow me on Twitter: @stlCupOfJoe

Indianapolis: Nap Town? Not Today.

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Photo Credit: @Pacers

May 26, 2013.

Might as well mark it down as one of the biggest days in Indianapolis’ sports history. Today will include everything but naps for Indianapolis sports fans.

12:12 PM EST: The 97th running of the Indianapolis 500.

8:30 PM EST: Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat in downtown Indianapolis at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

With hometown racer and Butler University alumnus, Ed Carpenter, sitting on the pole, the fans had plenty to cheer for today. The crowd erupted when Carpenter was introduced during the pre-race festivities and roared again when Billy Graham asked, “to continue our joy tonight in helping our beloved Pacers to ice the Heat,” in the pre-race prayer.

While Ed Carpenter did not win, he was still able to finish 10th while leading 37 laps along the way. If anyone had to win other than the Butler alum, it was Tony Kanaan, who has been a crowd favorite for years. He was able to persist through a record-high 68 lead changes to capture his first Indy 500 title in his 12th attempt.

Thus, with around 400,000 in attendance and an exciting race, the Indy 500 was a great success for Indianapolis, and let’s hope the Pacers can help cap off a perfect day for the city. In just over 4 hours, they will square off against LeBron James and the Miami Heat.

If the Pacers limit their turnovers, defend in front to prevent straight-line drives to the basket by Heat players, and take advantage of their low-post advantage in Roy Hibbert and David West, they will have a really good chance at taking control of the series.

It also helps that they are at home and will be playing in front of an electric crowd. For as crazy as the atmosphere was for Game 6 against the Knicks, tonight will be on a completely different level.

If any Miami Heat fans made the trip to Indianapolis (let’s be honest, they probably didn’t…they have trouble making the trip to their home arena), they can borrow some of the ear plugs used at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today so that they can handle the crowd noise. Indianapolis Colts punter, Pat McAfee, will be proud because it most definitely will be Bonkers Life Fieldhouse tonight.

Indianapolis sports fans can find time for a nap sometime tomorrow…

Until next time…

Joe
@stlCupOfJoe