x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Indiana Pacers game plan: team up to cool off the Heat

Without a superstar Indiana wins with contributions from everyone, writes Steve Dilbeck.

Roy Hibbert, left, is the centre of attention on an Indian Pacers team that has reached the NBA Eastern Conference finals without the benefit of a superstar. They now face the trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh along with the rest of the defending champion Miami Heat.
Roy Hibbert, left, is the centre of attention on an Indian Pacers team that has reached the NBA Eastern Conference finals without the benefit of a superstar. They now face the trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh along with the rest of the defending champion Miami Heat.

They are a team without a superstar. In truth, they have no go-to guy. Not a single player destined for the Hall of Fame.

They play in mid-market Indianapolis with little national, let alone international, fanfare. Most casual NBA followers would struggle to name more than two of their players. They are attacking the post-season without their best player.

Yet here the Indiana Pacers are, one of the last four play-off teams standing. Most figure this is the end of the line for the upstart Pacers, but not surprisingly, they have other things on their minds.

"We're not satisfied with where we're at," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "We feel like there's no ceiling on this team this year."

The Pacers met the Heat in the play-offs last year, too. They actually took a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semi-finals before LeBron James and the Miami Heat exerted their will on the way to the NBA title.

The Pacers have honed their defensive skills, become a tougher rebounding team, and seem more resilient.

It worked in dispatching the New York Knicks in six games, but the Heat are an entirely different animal, despite Vogel declaring they were "just the next team" standing in their way to their own NBA title.

James did not find this to be some simple coach-speak, and seemed astonished someone would speak of the Heat and its trio of superstars in James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, so lightly.

"I don't understand what he's saying," James said. "He said we're just another team in their way? We're a great team."

And the Pacers are what, exactly?

Yes, they are a team without Danny Granger, whose knee injury has kept him out of most of the season, but they have become much more than just some team missing its star. The Pacers led the league in rebounding, defensive field-goal percentage and defensive three-point percentage, while finishing second in fewest points allowed in the regular season. In the play-offs, it has only been more of the same.

"They have a hell of a defence," Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony said.

"They do a great job of controlling the paint, closing it down, making it tough for guys. You've got to give their guys credit, especially when they got a chance to set. [Centre] Roy Hibbert gets to sit in the paint, causes havoc."

Different Pacers have taken turns starring in the play-offs, much like the regular season.

They win because they do not have a superstar. Because they are a team.

"This is the most together group I've been a part of," one of those non-superstars, David West, said. "At some point every day, every guy speaks to every guy on this team ... We don't have any egos. We don't have any 'I' guys. We have a bunch of 'we' guys."

 

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