Pacers can learn from '08 Celtics
Now that the Pacers have dragged themselves out of the first round of the playoffs with a Game 7 win over the Hawks, it’s a good time to think positive.

That’s what was going on in the Pacers' locker room following their advancement to the East semis against Washington, according to coach Frank Vogel.

Asked if there was relief or elation in his post-game meeting with his team, Vogel said, “Maybe little of both. I don’t know, you win a series and you’re happy to move on to the next round and excited for the next opponent.”

Consider the script: Top-seeded Eastern Conference team takes on a 30-something-win team from Atlanta — one that is surprisingly scrappy in pushing to a seventh game.

After a good, thorough scare, the Hawks are dispatched and the top-seeded East team goes on to win the next round.

That’s exactly what happened back in 2008, the first year the Celtics got Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen together.

The eighth-seeded Hawks won all three of their home games and forced the Celtics into a Game 7 in Boston.

The Cavs did the same thing in the next round.

It wasn’t until Game 3 of the conference finals that the Celtics, who had won 66 games in the regular season, finally got a playoff road win.

That post-season, of course, ended in a Boston championship.

But watching the Celtics struggle through the first two rounds of the playoffs hardly lent credence to the team as a legitimate favourite for the title.

Now the Pacers are hoping to take a similar path, and certainly, the way the first round unfolded has not done much to instil confidence in their prospects.

But there is much to take away from the team’s performance in the last two games that at least evokes the 46-13 bunch the Pacers were back in early March — the one that looked like it would cruise to the East finals and perhaps beyond.

The defence was suffocating, holding the Hawks to just 30.4 percent shooting and 25 percent from beyond the three-point arc.

The Hawks made just 35.8 percent from the field and 25.7 percent from the three-point line in Game 6.

They once again proved intimidating to the Hawks in the interior, allowing only 40.5 percent shooting in the paint.


Individually, the Pacers got familiar stat lines from their wings, Paul George (30 points, 11 rebounds) and Lance Stephenson (19 points, 14 rebounds and five assists).

Those two played well together in Game 6, too.

Without both providing consistent scoring, the Pacers’ offence grinds to a halt.

Maybe most promising, though, is what Roy Hibbert did.

Sure, the numbers are modest.

He had 13 points and seven rebounds but shot 6-for-10 and added five blocks.

Considering that in the first six games of this series, Hibbert averaged 4.0 points and 3.3 rebounds, shooting 30.3 percent from the field, this qualifies as a resounding success.

All of this is not to say that the Pacers have suddenly gotten their longstanding chemistry issues figured out, or that the Wizards won’t prove to be as much of a problem for this team as the Hawks were.

For better or worse, the Pacers are not a completely different team, after all.

“I never really felt like we were that far,” Vogel said.

“I know there was a lot written about in our struggles in the late part of the season, but I don’t think that was part of what happened in our first-round matchup. I think you had a team that played exceptionally well and was coached exceptionally well and presented a matchup challenge for us. But I don’t really feel like we strayed that far from who we are.”

The hope now is that they can be the same team that looked so good for the first four months of the regular season.

Do that, and the Pacers have a chance to erase the dysfunction that came at season’s end and in the early part of this series; the dysfunction that had Vogel’s neck on the line; that had speculation already ramping up about drastic off-season roster changes.

Six years ago, Boston was in the same situation.

And things wound up pretty good for them.

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