With the NBA in lockout mode, NBA TV is in lockout mode as well, replaying most of the same few games featuring this year’s Hall of Fame inductees, among those a March 4, 1992 game between the Pistons and Pacers. The game is historic because it was the game Dennis Rodman pulled down a career high 34 rebounds, 18 of which came on the offensive end, even though about ten of them were tips. But the game, a tough 110-107 overtime loss in Detroit, provided an entirely different outlook for Pacers fans, as it gave a tremendous picture of where the Indiana Pacers were on the brink of Winning Time, while also drawing a few parallels between where the Pacers were in 1992 and where the Pacers are twenty years later.
The Pacers entered the game the night after upsetting Chicago at the United Center, but sat at 27-33, in eleventh place in the East, fighting to get back into the postseason picture while also dealing with some gloriously suspect officiating all night. The lopsided affair early resulted in a Reggie Miller technical, but it didn’t take away from a back and forth battle that saw ferocious flashes from a rookie Dale Davis (who actually sunk both of his free throws after a late first half steal and foul), 11-15 shooting (and double double) night from Detlef Schrempf, an invisible Reggie Miller, some bonehead plays by Chuck Person, an inactive Rik Smits despite no discernable injury, and a big 28-14 night from Micheal Williams.
The flaws in the 91-92 team were easy to see, and despite coming off a big playoff series against the Celtics in 1991 when Larry Bird walked through that door, the Pacers had not progressed much, giving caution to the possibility of a similar fate falling the equally flawed 11-12 team. But unlike the 91-92 team, the flaws aren’t quite the same. The second unit of the 91-92 team was every bit as inept offensively as the veteran laced second unit Jim O’Brien ran with during December and January, but except for the benching of Smits, there wasn’t a whole lot being buried (whether Smits could be considered buried is another discussion, I suppose); they just didn’t have the depth unlike the 10-11 team proved with the playing time of Paul George and Tyler Hansbrough.
But Indiana did have scorers, four of them to be exact in Miller, Williams, Person, and Schrempf. Not only was Schrempf coming off Player of the Month honors in February, but Micheal Williams was putting together an All-Defensive year, a little better than the backup Danny Granger had offensively as Roy Hibbert and Darren Collison came and went all year.
Some additional curiosities in the game included Coach Bob Hill removing a locked up Reggie Miller (who had just six points on six attempts) in the heat of overtime for dead weight George McCloud, who mastered the art of being Brandon Rush two decades before Rush in addition to obviously ill advised isos for Person, despite Williams and Schrempf being hot all night. I won’t say they cost the Pacers the game; the officiating was a Detroit specialty almost all night (including a recall on an easy backcourt violation that took a possession away from the Pacers), but it’s easy to see what reactions would be in the 1992 blogosphere.
If you get the chance, scope this game out on NBA TV. I’m sure it will be getting some air time as Rodman’s Hall of Fame induction approaches shortly. It’s easy to put yourself in the same frustrated/excited mindset for the current team, including a big game from the promising first round pick, keeping entirely in mind how the Pacers flipped the 91-92 roster into five Eastern Conference Finals appearances in the next eight years. It helps illustrate that even as a flawed a roster as 91-92 Pacers, who would make the postseason and be swept out as upset favorites against the short handed Celtics, reached the Eastern Conference Finals just two years later. Does the short term future of the Eastern Conference look so formidable that Indiana couldn’t make the same journey with the right path in a couple of years’ time with the right moves?
So try catch the game and enjoy the familiar flaws that plagued the young Pacers of 20 years ago, because as the current Pacers enter what could be their 1991-92 season, it’s a helpful reminder that growing pains for a young team are the same in any era.