Sunday evening was the night for San Antonio to celebrate (or completely blow off) their 15th consecutive season of recording 50+ wins. It still sounds out of this universe every time you utter the words.Monday, however, became another team’s time to shine and turn the corner on the mid-century mark. It may not have dawned upon fans at the time, but the Indiana Pacers’ 99-90 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers secured the franchise’s first 50-win season since the 2003-04 campaign.
It’s amazing how matters change in just 10 years, given that this Pacers team isn’t battling with New Jersey or Detroit atop the conference, which was the case during the nasty days centered around the “Malice in the Palace.” Instead, they’re in a tighter race for the number one seed — Indiana finished seven games ahead of Detroit in the 2003-04 standings — and Monday’s win placed them 3 1/2 games ahead of the Miami Heat.
The heart of basketball country seemed to lose it’s feeling of prominence in the NBA, as Indiana hasn’t made an appearance on the grandest stage since 2000, a year they didn’t possess enough firepower to compete with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Now, they’ve rode along the train of a defensive culture, and own the Eastern Conference’s largest point differential, the ultimate evaluation of how well a team performs on both ends for 48 minutes.
Just a week and a half ago, we were in the midst of slamming the panic button on Indiana’s season. Losing four straight games (three on the road), the Pacers did exactly what everyone prayed they would and exposed Andrew Bynum to the fans for a relieving win over Boston. They followed up with a win at Wells Fargo Center, handling Philadelphia on the first night of a back-to-back. Finishing off that weekend stretch would require overtime in Mo-town (there was no brawl), with Indiana completing a miraculous 25-point comeback to further damper the Pistons’ playoff hopes. As if Josh Smith‘s 3-point shooting mentality hasn’t led that sinking ship all season.
Picking up their 31st home win of the season wasn’t gorgeous, by any means, but Indiana turned on the jets in order to prevent the 76ers’ “streak” from ending.
Let’s take a look at what transpired between two teams that are on completely opposite ends of the spectrum.