The bold and provocative way to start this column is to assure you that the Pacers’ Game 1 flop was simply an aberration, merely a blip soon to be forgotten in an otherwise remarkable playoff run.
Indiana stumbled in dropping a game to No. 8-seed Atlanta, but it was just a bump along a playoff road that will take the team far beyond the first round and ultimately to its destiny — an Eastern Conference Finals showdown with Miami.
All the fans and pundits who are predicting a quick — even historic — demise will be eating those words come June.
The stifling defense and dominant inside play will return.
Sure, that would make for better ink.
But I don’t believe it, and neither do you.
Worse, you really wonder if the Pacers believe it themselves going into a pivotal Game 2 tonight.
Of course, they may get a game or two, perhaps even take the series. After all, the Hawks (38-44) are the worst team in the NBA playoffs in terms of records. They had lost two-thirds of their road games before dominating Indiana on Saturday.
The end is near for Indiana, and it will not be pretty.
Let’s not delude ourselves any longer. The Pacers are going nowhere.
This is not about being a loyal fan and supporting your team. It is about being a realist.
Following seven weeks of the worst NBA basketball in memory, the Pacers are no longer in a slump or a funk. This is no longer a team simply in need of chemistry or a spark.
It is not about “calling out” the team, labeling them “wussies” and “dogs,” as Charles Barkley did.
It is not even productive to point out the obvious — the Pacers have regressed from a true team to a series of disjointed individuals who look like they are playing a pickup game for the first time together.
We can’t undo the Feb. 20 Danny Granger trade or the Andrew Bynum signing, which — coincidence or not — mirror the Indiana demise on the calendar.
No doubt coach Frank Vogel has tried everything from rest to kicks in the posterior to mental gymnastics to regain the form that was displayed through February. Nothing has worked. Since March 1, Indiana is 12-13.
It especially cannot be said that this is a team that wants to play this way. That suggestion is simply ridiculous. The Indiana locker room is full of class guys, win or lose.
Perhaps that is what is most frustrating. There is no glaring fault crying for a quick fix. Certainly, center Roy Hibbert is confounding, having fallen from All-Star to also-ran in a few weeks. While the problem starts there, it does not stop without touching virtually every name on the roster, including fellow All-Star Paul George.
“It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating, but it’s a long series,” George said of the opening loss in which he struggled yet again with his shot. “It’s just one game, and that’s the way we have to look at it.”
Yes, it is one game. That either means there is a chance to turn things around — at least in this series — or simply more misery to follow.
A wise counselor once told me that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. She wasn’t talking about basketball, but perhaps she should have been.
Right now, the past seven weeks have shown us that Indiana is simply not the same team it was before the All-Star break.
Why? Ask a dozen fans and you will get a dozen answers. Perhaps mercifully, time is about to run out.
Indiana’s season — a run that was at times remarkable — is over. All that is left is the postscript as to how it ends, either at the hands of Atlanta or perhaps Chicago in the next round.
Sadly, that will be the epitaph. Here lie the Pacers, a team that was the best in the Eastern Conference for much of the regular season, only to fall apart when it mattered most.
Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.