The Fieldhouse is sold out. Fans are fired up to greet Paul George in his first game back at the Fieldhouse. ESPN is in town for a national television broadcast and the Pacers are already enjoying plenty of national attention for their high level of play lately.
Whenever a team is riding this high, they are poised for a fall as the hype and attention create distractions mere mortals can't resist. Throw in a dinged up backcourt (Darren Collison and Corey Joseph are both questionable) and a highly motivated Thunder team and the Pacers are in for severe test at home.
In the fifth game of the season, the Pacers had nothing for the Thunder in OKC, but now they have a far better approach and identity on the court. Victor Oladipo has led the charge but with a supporting cast that seems to take turns making key plays at the Fieldhouse. But this recent success combined with an all-eyes-on-me matchup against Paul George, er, the OKC Thunder, ramps up the distraction level the Pacers will have to play through.
Of course, the focus will remain on Paul George and despite all of the positives that have emerged from PG's departure, not to mention the positives he delivered in seven seasons with the Pacers, the local wrath of rejection will be heard from fans. Surely, someday, fans will appreciate what PG did with the Pacers, but that won't be tonight.
So if you must, enjoy getting your pound of flesh, but let's not forget, Paul George was one of just four former Pacers to average over 20 points per game for multiple seasons (3) along with Reggie Miller (6), Jermaine O'Neal (4) and Danny Granger (3). He also played a leading role on a team that brought tons of post-season joy to the Fieldhouse along with two epic trips to the Eastern Conference Finals where he faced off with prime-of-his-career LeBron James.
Don't tell me that wasn't fun.
Last year? That wasn't fun and once PG started taking ice baths after games for an hour to delay talking after games, his interest in delivering in big-time games for the Pacers waned. Sure enough, PG and his reps forced Kevin Pritchard to deal him and somehow it has all worked out well for the Pacers.
PG's reasoning was based on his desire to win, but really his desire was for a bigger spotlight which he didn't want to draw toward Indy but instead step into in a bigger market (and that ain't OKC). As ugly as the situation played out last summer, all Pacers fans should be happy the team was able to get anything back (let alone two fantastic players) for PG.
Now the payoff for the Pacers and fans has arrived, the opportunity to show how well the team has moved on from the drama PG created this summer. Not only have the Pacers moved on without PG but they are thriving. Tonight, with all of the distractions and bright lights from ESPN, we'll see if the Pacers can thrive in the spotlight they now have shining down on Indy.