From the time Frank Vogel took over the head coaching duties for the Indiana Pacers he has preached a "smash-mouth" brand of basketball. While such proclamations were met with snickers initially, the Pacers have indeed developed a tough style of play that has served them well this year, finding ways to win when otherwise not playing so well.
At times recently it may seem like Vogel has created a monster with his emphasis on tough, physical play. When Quentin Richardson snapped on Saturday night and confronted Danny Granger, with Granger and his teammates rallying to hold their ground, it marked the third game in a row that there was some sort of skirmish involving the Pacers.
"We play a physical brand of basketball and when you do that then sometimes it gets under the other team's skin," Danny Granger said when discussing the trend of opponent confrontations. "But we're not dirty out there, just playing hard and we play tough and we try to win every game so we just try to do it the right way."
One thing we've learned over the years is that Granger has a hair-trigger temper when pushed too far on the court. I'm sure that is part of the scouting report these days and there may be more nights like last Saturday when a player like Richardson decides to take one for the team to try to get Granger ejected.
That scenario doesn't concern Granger at all as he insists, despite the way it appears, he is in control and actually likes when things get heated.
"They can't get me out of my game because I get fired up and I get more focused if I get in an altercation," Granger said. "That's just always been the way. So I think that's a characteristic of our team that we relish, if things do get physical we tend to focus in more and set ourselves straight."
Hard to argue that point considering the way Granger responed in Minnesota after snapping back at Kevin Love. His 36-point night help shut up Love and put away the Timberwolves. For a team that has struggled with mental toughness over the past few years, it appears the emphasis on "smash-mouth" basketball has not only toughed them up physically but mentally as well.
Now when the game heads to winning time the Pacers are able to execute and make the plays needed to secure a win. Even in the loss to Orlando, the dug down and did all of the dirty work needed to win but just couldn't make any shots.
"We have a very unique team," Granger said about the team's improved focus. "We've got scorers. We've got speed. We've got size. We've got shooters. We kind of have everything we need. "
Another thing they have is a nice combination of agitators that can be effective while driving other teams mad, whether that be physically (Tyler Hansbrough) or verbally (Granger) or both (Dahntay Jones). Add to that cast Lance Stephenson, Jeff Foster, Lou Amundson and George Hill and you have a nice compliment of pesky players that, to borrow a football term, play through the whistle. They have developed a reputation for making other teams uncomfortable
Like Granger, George Hill and David West don't suffer fools on the court and won't hesitate to let them know. They also don't care if you don't think they've earned that right. Right, Chicago?
To put it bluntly, this team is nobody's bitch.
"That's the approach that we take," Granger said. "I don't care who we are playing, we're not going to back down from anybody and with that we've developed the confidence that we're going to go out and expect to win every game."
And that is where it all makes sense. If you are going to play hard and play tough you have to develop the confidence and mental toughness to handle that style of play without losing your focus on the goal of the game: winning.
So now teams go into games against the Pacers expecting a physical battle while the Pacers go in expecting to win.