Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Pacers guard Victor Oladipo scored 32 points in Sunday's Game 1 victory over the Cavaliers in Cleveland. Game 2 is Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018 1:00 am

Pacers OK being overlooked

Doubted all season, lack of attention only serves as motivation

TOM WITHERS | Associated Press

Schedule

Who: Cleveland vs. Indiana

What: Eastern Conference first round

Series: Pacers lead 1-0

Game 1: Indiana 98, Cleveland 80

Game 2: 7 p.m. Wednesday at Cleveland

Game 3: 7 p.m. Friday at Indiana

Game 4: 8:30 p.m. Sunday at Indiana

Game 5: TBA April 25 at Cleveland*

Game 6: TBA April 27 at Indiana*

Game 7: TBA April 29 at Cleveland*

* If necessary

CLEVELAND – They've spent the season on the fringe, virtually ignored by all but the most savvy fans and NBA insiders.

They don't have any household names or any superstars, just one All-Star and a role player best known for foolish on-court antics.

But as the Indiana Pacers strolled quietly into practice Monday at Quicken Loans Arena, a building they silenced less than 24 hours earlier with an eye-catching playoff win in Game 1 over the Cavaliers, there was something unmistakable about them.

They're confident – and they're no longer a secret.

“People didn't expect us to do this well,” Pacers forward Thaddeus Young said. “We like that. That's what kind of drives our motor a little bit, being overlooked and no one expecting us to do what we're currently doing.”

The Pacers were the better team – by far – Sunday, leading from tip to final horn in a 98-80 victory.

Led by Victor Oladipo's 32-point, tough-shot-after-tough-shot performance, Indiana outplayed, outhustled and outlasted Cleveland, giving the Pacers a 4-1 record this season against the three-time defending conference champions.

This may have been a surprise to outsiders, but it was just another day on the office hardwood for the Pacers, who won 48 games during the regular season and were the only team to beat Golden State twice.

Didn't know that, did you?

Well, most of Indiana's accomplishments have been woefully under-publicized. That's what happens when only one of your games is shown on national TV, you're playing in a mid-market city and you appeared to throw away the future by trading away your biggest star, Paul George, last summer.

But the lack of attention doesn't faze the Pacers. It fuels them.

“They underestimate us,” Lance Stephenson said, referring to everyone, not just those Cleveland fans taunting the Pacers on Sunday. “They didn't think we would get this far and they didn't think we was going to win that many games.”

Stephenson, the Pacers' instigator, spark and arch-enemy to James, set the tone for Indiana's impressive win in Game 1 with a thunderous first-quarter dunk he celebrated by bashing his head into the padded basket stanchion.

They've been successful by following coach Nate McMillan's simple formula: share the ball, stop your man and stay connected.

“We've been playing like this all year,” said Oladipo, the team's rising star who has been on a mission since coming over from Oklahoma City in the deal for George. “Been playing hard on both ends all year. It just hasn't been magnified. So it's the playoffs now, we've been doing this all year. Now everybody sees.”Young, who along with Myles Turner are the only starters from last year's playoff squad, said Indiana's success is rooted in the team's togetherness. A year ago, the Pacers were going in different directions.

“We had a lot of guys with egos that we really couldn't push aside” he said. “And there was a lot of miscommunication and a lot of different things that were going on. We didn't know if Paul was going to be here. We didn't know if Jeff (Teague) was going to stick around. There was a lot of uncertainty and no clarity from Day One and that hurt us from being a better team than we could've been.

“But this team here, we're all in. We take each and every step together. We try to work in unison each and every day. We come to work and put our hard hats on and we all believe in each other.”