KRAVITZ: Wise up and get ready, Basketball America; the playoff-bound Pacers are headed to primetime

Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (33) drives on Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (13) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Sunday, March 25, 2018. The Pacers defeated the Heat 113-107 in overtime. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Published:
Updated:
Bob Kravitz

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Victor Oladipo was singing. Of course, he was singing. And dancing. That’s not a surprise because Oladipo, the best player on this playoff-bound Pacers team, wakes up singing and goes to bed singing, and it’s entirely likely he sings in his sleep. But now, sitting in the post-game locker room, waiting for Myles Turner to finish his interview with the media, he was really letting it go in full voice, his falsetto echoing through the room as he sang Jon B.’s “They Don’t Know.’’

“Does that ever get annoying?’’ I asked Turner, who sits right next to the team’s resident vocalist.

“Nah, man, I’m used to it; everybody sings in my house, so I’m used to it,’’ he said. Then he paused. “Now, when he starts singing to me, that’s where I draw the line.’’

How perfect that Oladipo was singing “They Don’t Know’’ after the Pacers’ playoff-clinching 111-107 overtime victory over the Miami Heat because, well, they don’t know – Basketball America, that is. They have no idea whether these Pacers are fish or fowl, animal or vegetable, don’t know anybody who isn’t named Oladipo, don’t know how it is that they’ve become the biggest overachievers in this year’s NBA. Beyond the Indiana state borders, the Pacers are the most anonymous team in the league.

Go ahead: Name the Pacers’ second-leading scorer. If you’re reading this, chances are you live in Indiana and root for the Pacers, and I’ll bet you’re not quite sure, either. So go ahead: Name him.

I’ll wait…

Nope, not Turner. Nope, not Darren Collison. Nope, not Domas Sabonis, who, by the way, missed the game because he turned his ankle while stepping on a ballboy’s foot during pregame warmups.

Indiana Pacers forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) shoots in front of Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow (20) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Sunday, March 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

That’s right, it’s Bojan Bogdanovic.

With all due respect to Bogdanovic, who has been a very fine player this season, if you’d told me before the season that the Pacers would clinch a playoff spot with eight games left AND their second-leading scorer would be Bogdanovic, I’d have had you drug tested on the spot.

In a star-driven league where elite teams have two or three All-Star-caliber players, the Pacers are a wondrous anomaly. They have Oladipo and a bunch of guys who contribute and are enjoying career years, guys who get along in a way that’s rare in the ego- and agenda-driven NBA.

“You go down the list of everybody in this room and at some point they’ve been written off in their careers individually, including our best player [Oladipo],’’ Collison said. “Every player on this team has a chip on their shoulder. You can see why players come out here every single night and play the way they do. We have a lot of underrated players who don’t necessarily get credit all the time, but they’ve been very valuable.’’

He continued, “Before the season, they had us projected winning like 30 games or something like that, [finishing] not even eighth or ninth but like 10th or 11th in the East. They said we didn’t get enough from the Paul George trade, but we got some really good players and most important, really good people. Because nobody has an ego. Everybody is playing for one another. That’s really rare in this league. But I’ve always said, if you can put together a team of guys who really enjoy playing with each other and for each other, you can do special things.’’

As Oladipo warbled like a songbird, I sidled over to Turner.

“Was this game a microcosm of your season?’’ I asked him.

He gave me a look.

“I do Word of the Day, but help me out; I don’t know that one,’’ he said. “Microcosm?’’

“Yeah,’’ I said, struggling for a decent definition. “Like, it captures the essence of the season, the essence of the team.’’

He shook his head. “Absolutely,’’ he said. He paused. “Microcosm. That’s a good one.’’

Indiana Pacers forward Thaddeus Young (21) gets a dunk over Miami Heat forward Kelly Olynyk (9) during overtime of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Sunday, March 25, 2018. The Pacers defeated the Heat 113-107 in overtime. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Consider Sunday night’s overtime victory over the Heat. They got help from everywhere.

  • From Oladipo, who does it almost every night and hit the game-altering step-back three-ball over Kelly Olynyk to put the Pacers ahead for good.
  • From Thaddeus Young, who may be the poster child for this franchise. Understated, steady, and hugely anonymous, he scored 22 points, had nine rebounds and three blocked shots.
  • From Collison, who started slowly and finished with a flourish, scoring eight points in overtime.
  • From Cory Joseph, who played 30 effective minutes, scored nine points, grabbed 10 rebounds and had seven assists.
  • From Trevor Booker, who has been a very nice late-season addition by Kevin Pritchard, giving the Pacers rebounding and grit, finishing with six points and six rebounds in 22 minutes.
  • From Turner, who had an unspectacular stat line, but had two key assists in overtime and blocked a Goran Dragic shot to turn the tide.
  • From Lance Stephenson, who had eight points, and Glenn Robinson III, who had 11 in his best outing since returning from his injury.

Just don’t tell the rest of the country. Know how many times the Pacers have been on national TV this year? Once. All those different stations showing NBA games, and the Pacers have been shown once. Not that anybody should blame the TV types or go on one of those tiresome “The national media doesn’t respect us’’ rants: Before this season, what possible reason could be given for showing the Indiana Pacers. It’s ratings death, right? An anonymous, middling-at-best team from Flyover Country? When’s Lebron playing? Can’t blame the TV types a bit.

That’s going to change, and it’s going to change very soon.

“Nobody knows who we are,’’ Collison said. “They hear about us, but they haven’t seen us play. So it’ll be nice for the whole world to see how we play.’’

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) fouls Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (33) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Sunday, March 25, 2018. The Pacers defeated the Heat 113-107 in overtime. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

There are so many reasons to adore this team, it’s hard to know where to start. It’s not just the record, already one victory better than last year’s agenda-filled and largely unlikable underachievers. It’s the way they play and who they are. As a team. As one. Bringing it, without fail, every night.

“I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms, but I’ve never been in one like this,’’ Young said. “This is one of the most unique teams I’ve ever been around.’’

This was not supposed to be a playoff year. Honestly, it wasn’t even supposed to be much in the way of a rebuilding year. It was supposed to be, for lack of a better term, a lousy year, a year when the undermanned Pacers, still reeling from the Paul George fiasco, won on the order of 35 to 38 games and ended up on the back end of the Lottery.

Some of us thought they’d be decent – I wrote before the season they might be too good for their own good, and sneak into a final playoff spot and work themselves out of a Lottery pick – but nothing, and I mean NOTHING, like what we’ve experienced.

And they’re not done. Now that they are headed to the playoffs, it should be said they are capable of making some sweet noise, much like Oladipo was doing after last night’s game.

Don’t listen to what people say.

They don’t know about you and me…

Want more Kravitz? Subscribe to The Bob Kravitz Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher or TuneIn. If you have a good story idea that's worth writing, feel free to send it to bkravitz@wthr.com.