Splash Brothers East may be a bit overstated. But tonight we get a chance to see if the Indiana Pacers can hang with the team that USA Today is already suggesting may be the best in NBA history.
Who’s to argue? Golden State comes into Bankers Life Fieldhouse at 22-0. That is not just the best start ever in the NBA; it is the best start by any pro team in any sport. Ever.
With the exception of Saturday’s three-point grinder at Toronto and a home overtime win against Brooklyn, few have been close. The win against the Raptors moved Golden State past the St. Louis Maroons of the Union Association, a predecessor to Major League Baseball, for the best start to a season by a professional sports team.
The Splash Brothers moniker refers to Warrior guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who led Golden State to the NBA title last season by splashing in 3-pointers with alarming frequency. The name is a play on Oakland’s “Bash Brothers” baseball duo of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire.
To be sure, no one splashes like the Warriors, who average more than 13 3-pointers per game and make an astonishing 44 percent of their attempts. No wonder Golden State averages 10 points more per game (115) than any other team.
Curry leads the NBA in scoring. Forward Draymond Green leads the league in rebounding, and the team leads in assists.
With a serviceable defense, this team is running away with a rugged Western Conference.
That has sportswriters searching for superlatives, and the Warriors have been the hottest ticket in town (12 of the wins were on the road). There simply hasn’t been a team this dominant at this stage of a season (the 1971-72 Lakers won 33 straight during the season).
All those gaudy statistics cast a glare over tonight’s opponent, which happens to be the second-best 3-point team in the league.
Any reference to the Pacers as Splash Brothers East, even joking, is sure to get a reaction.
“We’re the East Coast Splash Brothers,” George said in his postgame television interview on Fox Sports Indiana after an impressive win at Washington two weeks ago. “I’m kidding. Twitter, I’m kidding.”
Kidding or not, George and C.J. Miles certainly shot like Curry and Thompson for one night. George scored 40 points on 14-of-19 shooting, including 7 of 8 from behind the 3-point line. Miles wound up with 32 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including 8 of 9 from deep.
At 12-7, Indiana is the surprise team of the East, hitting threes at a 40 percent rate. That’s better than everyone else except Golden State.
Perhaps more impressive, Indiana is playing the kind of hawking defense that has been missing in years past.
How surprisingly good are these new-look Pacers?
Indiana just came off a West Coast road trip — the kind of grueling four-game trip that seems to render Eastern teams impotent. The Pacers went 2-2, and they were disappointed.
George, who had a career-high 48 in an overtime loss to Utah to close the trip, is having an MVP-caliber season. Miles, Rodney Stuckey, Monta Ellis and Chase Buddinger provide wing scoring. Point guard George Hill is shooting better.
The biggest surprise is up front, where the Pacers have dealt admirably with the departure of Roy Hibbert, David West and Luis Scola. Holdovers Ian Mahinmi and Lavoy Allen have combined with Jordan Hill to hold their own against more heralded front lines.
The result is an Indiana team that goes into tonight in a four-team jumble for first place in the East, just a half game back. They are among the league’s best.
But Golden State is playing with a skill, confidence and execution in all phases of the game that is unseen in decades. In a very real sense, they are who the Pacers strive to be.
If Indiana is going to get there, it all starts with protecting home court, no matter who the opponent may be.
Who will make the biggest splash tonight?