I don't mean to brag, or to turn this thread into a "my-team-is-better-than-yours" pissing contest, I simply want to take this opportunity to tell everybody why I'm so proud to be an Indiana Pacers fan.
We started the season riding high, with great expectations after a playoff run that ended at the hands of a phenomenal Pistons team. We immediately cruised to an early lead in the Eastern Conference, and then all hell broke loose.
In one night, the public's perception was changed about the Pacers because of an unfortunate incident at the Palace of Auburn Hills. In one fell swoop, we lost our three best players-- Jermaine O'Neal, Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson-- and everybody, hell, even I, knew we were toast.
In addition to losing our three best players, we were suddenly the "bad guys". Everyone wanted to beat us and beat us badly, not only to gain revenge for when we stomped on them the previous year but because they found us... revolting. Some people were saying the suspensions given to O'Neal, Jackson and even Artest weren't severe enough, even though the lowest of those suspensions was 25 games. Others called it the worst thing they've ever seen in sports, clearly displaying a sense of Americentrism, seeing as how people die at European soccer matches with shocking frequency.
During the time our three best players were out, we went through a slew of NBDL and training camp players. Johnathan Edwards, a rookie center from Kent State who'd made the team in training camp, hadn't even expected to stay with the team once Scot Pollard and David Harrison were healthy. But he not only stayed, he's stayed for the entire season.
On November 20, the Pacers played the Orlando Magic in a game at Conseco Fieldhouse in which only six Pacers were available to play. The makeshift starting lineup, with all due respect to my boys, looked like something an expansion team might put out. David Harrison started at center, Austin Croshere and James Jones at forward, and Freddy Jones and Eddie Gill at guard. The only other healthy player? Johnathan Edwards at center.
But the Pacers fought hard in that game, and only lost by three points. They suffered from a little bit too much Grant Hill, but nevertheless, to come that close against a good team under those circumstances was incredible. And the Fieldhouse crowd gave the blue-and-gold a well-deserved standing ovation.
But clearly we needed more players. Marcus Haislip got a look. Britton Johnsen and Tremaine Fowlkes, both released by New Orleans in training camp, were signed and played six and eight games, respectively. Michael Curry was signed as a free agent and did very well for us, particularly at the defensive end.
When Jermaine O'Neal's suspension was reduced to 15 games, allowing him to return immediately for a game against, naturally, the Pistons, the sportscasters on ABC and ESPN were up in arms. "He shouldn't have been allowed to return this early," they said. But JO was a model citizen upon his return-- which, of course, he always had been, save for one moment in which he made an unfortunate choice.
With Jermaine back, we were revitalized somewhat, but didn't quite experience the success we'd been hoping for. JO's return, by itself, didn't flip a switch and turn the team around. But God knows it helped. Anytime you can get a player like Jermaine O'Neal back, it's gonna help your team.
But even when we got every player but Artest back, we were doing... well, okay, but not great. But get Dale Davis back, and, WHOA! We're riding high right now, peaking at just the right time, despite the fact that JO and Jamaal are probably done for the season.
I just couldn't be prouder of these guys. When the three best players on your team are a 39-year-old, a guy playing for his fourth team in five years, and a guy who spent the first part of his career just trying to stay in the NBA (Reggie Miller, Stephen Jackson and Anthony Johnson, respectively) and we still take care of business against great teams like the Heat and the Pistons, it just brings a tear of joy to my eye.
I love this team. I love how Jeff Foster grabs all sorts of crazy offensive rebounds and usually tips them right into the basket, leading me simply to exclaim, "JEFF FOSTER!"
I love how when Anthony Johnson leaves the lineup and Eddie Gill replaces him, we don't lose a beat. I didn't have any idea who Eddie Gill was when we signed him in the offseason, although I did say, "Cool, we're gonna need a third point guard now that Jamison Brewer's gone." Eddie, you've been much, much more than a Jamison Brewer replacement to us.
I love how Stephen Jackson always seems to hit big shots when we need them the most. I love how Freddy Jones comes off the bench and provides enthusiasm and energy. I love how James Jones is one of the best shooters in the NBA, and few people outside of Indiana and Miami (where he went to college) even know his name.
I love how Austin Croshere is finally getting the opprortunity to justify that big contract we gave him after the 2000 NBA Finals, and how he forces opposing defenses to put their forwards where they don't wanna be. I love how Scot Pollard is seldom overpowered by anybody.
I love how Jamaal Tinsley handles the offense with such mastery and precision. I love how Jermaine O'Neal is our go-to-guy who can always be counted on to perform at a consistently high level.
I love how Dale Davis brings such hard-nosed "you want a piece of me, punk?" toughness to our squad. God, I missed you, Dale. Welcome home.
And I love how Reggie Miller's been the face of this franchise for 18 years, providing Pacers fans with such fantastic memories. For years our playoff hopes and dreams were placed on his back, and he not only delivered, he delivered in spectacular fashion. One more year, Reggie!
I just simply... love this team. And regardless of how the season turns out, I'm proud of them. Who would've thought that despite all this adversity, we'd be standing at #7 in the Eastern Conference standings this late in the season, with a legitimate chance at raising up to #6?
Let's go Pacers! Boom, baby! I still believe!
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I respect Indy's ability to still be in the top 8 after all the stuff that's happened to them this year. With my Celtics securely in the #3 spot, Indy is the team I would not want them to face in the 1st round, especially if JO is healthy.