Since their slight hiccup at Madison Square Garden in Game 2, the Indiana Pacers have looked every bit the favorite to win their Eastern Conference semifinal clash with the New York Knicks.
As the nondescript Pacers make short work of the Knicks, they’ve not only improved their NBA odds but have also started to make a name for themselves. This Thursday, the Pacers will get the opportunity to close the books on New York once and for all in preparation for a looming Eastern Conference Finals matchup with, presumably, the Miami Heat.
While Indiana has developed a reputation of being a solid, albeit underrated, fringe contender, the stereotype may not be completely appropriate.
On one hand, the emergence of Paul George as an NBA superstar, as well as the incredibly deep Pacers offense anchored by veteran big man David West, has pushed this traditionally defensive franchise from the middle to the top of the pack. On the other hand, consistent, quality rosters are the norm in Indiana. Although the Pacers missed out on the playoffs four years in a row from 2007-10, they qualified for 16 of the previous 17 postseasons, stretching all the way back to the Reggie Miller era.
But to truly appreciate this current Pacers rendition, which has 16-1 odds to win the NBA championship despite the Miami Heat being favored to repeat, one has to take a closer look.
Pacing Indiana in the points column is George, the 22-year-old swingman sensation. George’s 18.3 points per game may seem pedestrian compared to some of the stars he lines up against, but that’s not what makes him an NBA elite.
In addition to his points, George’s 8.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.9 assists per game in the playoffs help round out one of the most versatile players in basketball. Perhaps the most significant contribution that George brings to the table, however, is an All-Star-caliber ability to lock down opposing teams’ best players. His sheer length — and mobility for a man of his length — makes him a nightmare on any given evening.
Assisting George are big men West and Roy Hibbert, averaging 15.2 points and 13.8 points per game, as well as point guard George Hill. With 16 points per game of his own this postseason, he’s established himself as yet another Indiana threat.