Every key stat is measured in some way shape or form, from the leading scorers, a quarter-by-quarter breakdown of the final point total, the amount of lead changes, and even the amount of points off of turnovers. But there is one memorable part of Indiana's (4-1) 105-87 game five victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday night that can't be measured by any form of statistics.
The feeling of pure joy and happiness was at an all-time high at Bankers Life Fieldhouse as the seconds ticked off the clock, with a definite ending to a series with the Magic in sight, the Pacers and their fan base seemed to soak in every moment of it.
On one end, you had the fans who had stuck with this team through the lowest of the lows: the multiple Ron Artest/Stephen Jackson incidents, the Jamaal Tindsley era, and a rebuilding stage that took seven years since 2005 before they had advanced just to the second round. As Tuesday night's game wore on, as Indiana struggled into the fourth quarter trailing by 71-69 after leading practically the entire game, the fans came more alive with each possession. For what has been a regular occurrence this season in 2012 but may not be a well-known fact with all of the negative press on the fan attendance through the season, this Pacers crowd has the ability to lift their Indiana squad to another level.
On Tuesday they did so, and the Pacers responded by outscoring Orlando 36-16 in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. And as those fans cheered in unison "Beat the Heat", the likely contender for Indiana's second-round series, you couldn't help but realize how special this game meant to those in the stands.
As for the players on the court, you could sense a team that had finally felt like they had accomplished something truly special. After a full season of being overlooked with the number-three seed by the nation and perhaps being cast-off behind the shadow in their hometown with a revived Indiana University basketball squad and the Peyton Manning/Andrew Luck saga, you could tell the Pacers took to heart every single moment on the hardwood. From their elevated play to the celebrations with the fans afterwards, this Pacers squad truly felt how important this moment was to the fans, the city, and to themselves.
"It was a huge step for our franchise," said Head Coach Frank Vogel.
"We took a big step last year in getting back to the playoffs and ever since that minute, we came back with the mindset that we want to advance further than last year. We're very happy to get this W and advance. But we're not happy with just getting that. We feel like this is just the beginning of a big run. We're excited about where we're at as a basketball team."
Pacers captain Danny Granger, who finished with a team-high 25 points (12 coming in the fourth quarter), looked as if he was a kid running up and down the court again. During the second quarter Granger hit two three-pointers in a row from practically the same right corner, the second coming at the 4:35 mark. The shot sent Granger sprinting back on defense with the grandest smile on his face as he pointed to the fans in the upper-deck as he ran down the court, and it was the type of enjoyment Granger carried throughout the rest of the game.
"It was a lot of fun honestly," said Granger. "Just the energy from the crowd, and how electric it was, I didn't even want to leave the court. I am really excited for the next series, regardless of who we are playing."
Even the often stoic veteran in David West, who had another solid contest with 12 points and 8 rebounds, was proud of the way the Pacers embraced the challenge of an Orlando team that wouldn't go easy as Indiana executed flawlessly down the stretch.
"This team has the potential," said West.
"We have all the pieces, we have the depth, and again we talked about this at the beginning of the year. Just in terms of having the opportunity of a close-out game on our home-court, and we did what was necessary in the regular season to do that. It has all paid off for us."
Collison comes up big off the bench
Eighteen days ago Pacers point guard Darren Collison, while recovering from a strained groin injury, heard the news that could have potentially caused some inner-turmoil and jealousy among the Pacers locker room. The 24-year old Collison had lost his starting spot to fellow teammate George Hill.
The news could have caused a rift with Collison and his team, but Head Coach Frank Vogel always pointed out that it is never a bad problem for a team to have two starting point guards as the Pacers had on their roster. Which is perhaps why Darren Collison didn't look surprised by the way he performed on Tuesday night.
With the game tied at 73-73 Collison drove in for a layup with an assist of Paul George with 10:19 left in the fourth, and hit a corner three with 9:34 left in the game that sent Bankers Life Fieldhouse shaking and Indiana onto a lead that catapulted them onto a 32-14 run to end the game. Collison was on fire during that fourth, finishing 7-7 from the field with 15 points and assists in the final quarter alone.
Collison never seemed to lose any faith in his skills despite the lesser role, and even with his relatively new bench role with the squad, he seems to carry the mindset to continue to have success with this Pacers team.