I have to admit, I was crushed Tuesday night, watching the Bulls finally live up to what they could be. All the breaks that went the Pacers' way in the first four games, seemed to reverse themselves all at once. I tried not to let myself get to excited when Frank Vogel boldly proclaimed that he thought they could take the series if they could just win Game 5. I failed. In a post before the playoffs started I set out some personal critera for judging this series as a success. Here's what I wrote:
I'm trying to keep my expectations reasonable for this series. As much as I'd like to let my imagination run wild with scenarios of upsets and Davidian triumphs, I know that the inconsistent Pacers' team I watched all-season, will be facing the best team in the East; a team which beat them soundly three times this season and is playing with all the confidence and swagger in the world. I've tried to adjust my definition of success for this series accordingly:
- I'd like to see the Pacers' win at least one game, preferrably in front of a loud sell-out home crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse.
- I'd like to see the Pacers make every game a 48 minute competition.
- I'd like to see the team maintain a high-level of energy, effort and aggressiveness; regardless of the score or situation.
- I'd like to see the Pacers' leave this series with more confidence then they enter with.
In short, I'd like to see a roster who truly believes that they earned this playoff berth and that they belong, a team which can make the organization's first playoff experience since 2006 a postive, motivational, learning experience; win or lose. Even that modified set of goals is not a given. The Pacers have a tremendous challenge ahead of them, but it also represents a tremendous opportunity.
I'm sure glad I wrote those down ahead of time, because I spent most of today floundering in despair. Looking at those words again helps reminds me that there has been a silver lining in all this.
Over the past two weeks, the Pacers' hit almost everything on that check list. They may not have outscored Chicago, but they were every bit the Bulls' equal in energy, effort and aggressiveness. Even when Game 5 got out of hand, the Pacers continued to fight, displaying the same intensity they had throughout the series. I was and am extremely proud of the way they conducted themselves. I never thought close playoff losses would be as inspiring as those early season wins over the Heat and Lakers.
The are only two things I can't check off on my list. The quality of the home crowd was less than ideal, infiltrated as it was by Bulls fans. The second is that we won't really know for another few months if the Pacers' truly left Game 5 at the United Center with more confidence than they entered with.
I have to say there was one incredible offshoot of these five games that I hadn't anticipated: the birth of an honest to goodness rivalry. I think it's safe to say that the Bulls and Pacers respect each other, while honestly disliking each other. The four games they play next season are going to be intense, heated, must-watch (national??) tv. The Knicks and Pistons have undergone such changes in the past few years, it's hard to sense any extra enmity when they match up with the Pacers. For the first time in years the Pacers' will have a true villain to face off against in their season narrative. I can't wait.
The off-season in Indianapolis started today. There are free agents and draft picks to scout, recaps to write and storylines to review. The players are on vacation, the fans are not. Nathan said this at the end of his Game 5 recap, but it bears repeating. Thank you so much to all the Pacers' fans who read, commented and shared opinions here at IndyCornrows this season. This is not just a blog, but a community and I know Nathan, Rick, Tom and I are all extremely grateful and humbled that we get to play such a large part in it. Thank you!