When Channing Frye hit the back of Earl Watson’s head, something happened. And more than Frye getting ejected. More than Danny Granger getting suspended. More than Steve Nash showcasing his wares as a talented negotiator to giants. It created a wave. The signs were there from the second the commotion subsided: Danny Granger tried to channel his inner Reggie Miller and the team showed life for the first time since the team ominously allowed their lead to evaporate against the New York Knicks in early November.
Suddenly, it seemed like it didn’t matter that the team went 15-40 since that game and it didn’t matter that John Wall and Evan Turner were looking at houses in Fishers. What mattered was that the team enjoyed trying to feed off of the Phoenix crowd’s energy, even if they were clearly too groggy from their winter hibernation to take advantage of it.
The loss was a positive end to what could have been the worst stretch of the team’s season, getting crushed in LA, Portland, and Denver. The Pacers have played ten games since then, and have gone 7-3 in that stretch. It isn’t just impressive the team has won seven games in ten; it’s impressive that this team has simply been competitive in nine of those games. Last year, Indiana happened to lose an NBA record 46 games by 1 point or less, but this group hadn’t even played ten games within five points all season prior to The Awakening.
The Pacers are seeing a reason for this in a lot of areas: Danny Granger playing to last year’s level +1, Brandon Rush is back in March Madness form, Roy Hibbert continues his delightful progression, and oh yeah, we’ve seen increased minutes for A.J. Price and Josh McRoberts, even if injuries have been the catalyst to that. The guys that will (sic) be around a while are getting it done.
Of course, that’s not to diminish great play from Watson, who is finding his teammates in a way not seen since in a Pacers uniform since Jamaal Tinsley was motivated and Troy Murphy, who is rebounding in a way not seen since Troy Murphy. But from Solomon Jones’s opportunistic play to T.J. Ford sitting himself out, it’s been a real team effort. And since this is more or less the same team we’ll see next year, that’s something we shouldn't be upset with. Heck, they've won their last three games by 48 total points, doing so while uncharacteristically missing 33 free throws.
As the franchise talent fans desperately seek slips away, it's time to accept that it's beyond our grasp and look at the end of the season for what it is: a team building effort. The Pacers will likely not pick lower than tenth and no higher than sixth. Accept it and let the wins and losses take care of themselves. Nothing we can do as fans can change how the team finishes out, so we might as well enjoy the winning while we have it, since Earl Watson and Channing Frye may have set back long term winning just a little longer.