The Indiana Pacers were considered as one of the biggest threats to the current champions dominance and reign, even if it’s without a superstar. The 8-0 start to this season, carried on with a 95-79 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, tells that they just might be the best team in the NBA, and it’s wrong to think they don’t have a superstar, as Paul George seems to answer the call.
With 23 points, George becomes only the third player in NBA history to score 20 points or more through a team’s perfect start over 8 games. He is averaging 24.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, looking more consistent than ever in his shooting and decision making (47.9% from the field), and worth every penny of that massive extension he got during the offseason.
No Danny Granger? No problem. Lance Stephenson might have been a sixth player if Granger would have been fit and healthy, but that hasn’t happened in over a year. Stephenson is playing with a rare kind of energy this season, as if he’s out to prove something, adding a triple double, the first of his career, to his growing resume, scoring 13 points, adding 11 rebounds and dishing out 12 assists.
The recipe for success? Defense, and a growing sense of team, despite Paul George feeling very comfortable as a leading man. The Pacers are young, and don’t seem to have any problem with back to back night or stretches. They looked fresh, strong and complete from top to bottom as they out-rebounded the the Grizzlies 45-32, something Memphis should be particulary strong at, including going 30-15 during the first half.
The defense has been, as always, ever present. Roy Hibbert is pretty much impossible to score against in the paint. Not being even close to getting picked as defensive player of the year probably still burns in him somewhere, and playing against the award recipient, Marc Gasol, made the flames burn ever brighter. He had 5 blocks and is averaging 4.4 this season. The Grizzlies were held to 41.3% from the field, not to mention almost 20 points beneath their season average. No one defends the paint quite like the Pacers, keeping teams at only 47.3% from close range. By the time they built a 25 point lead in the fourth quarter and headed into garbage time, the Grizzlies were limited to only 42.1% from the paint.
Even great starts don’t mean anything in the NBA. There have been five teams over the last 10 years to start the season at 8-0, but only one of them, the Boston Celtics in 2007-2008, ended up winning the NBA title. The Pacers aren’t just a one time thing – they’re a work in progress that were a step away, and probably home advantage as well, from making it to the NBA finals. This year seems to be just another step in their natural evolution, which might end with the franchise’s first championship.
Everything we’re shooting for is attainable, but we’ve got a long way to go, a lot of work to do. It was probably our most complete game.