“Pacers basketball is back.”
Those were the words of Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel following his squad’s series-clinching win over Orlando in the first round. Now, with the Pacers holding a 2-1 series lead over the Miami Heat, it certainly seems that Vogel was right.
Indiana placed 29th in league attendance during the regular season, but fans turned out in full force Thursday to help the Pacers defend their home court advantage. A sellout crowd of more than 18,000 provided a spark that led to the Pacers 94-75 Game 3 victory. Each fan received a gold t-shirt upon admittance, creating a vibrant aesthetic force to compliment the verbal one.
“It was the best building I’ve ever been in for basketball,” Vogel said following the win. “It was the best crowd I’ve ever witnessed.”
Seventh-year forward Danny Granger agreed.
“With all the gold, I was almost blind,” Granger said of the thousands of gold t-shirts in the stands. “I haven’t seen it like this since I’ve been here. We’re just thankful so many fans came out to support us.”
Granger is the longest-tenured Pacers player, having been selected by the team in the first round of the 2005 NBA Draft.
The Game 3 win came one day after president of basketball operations Larry Bird was named the 2011-12 NBA Executive of the Year. With the distinction, Bird became the first ever person to win league MVP, Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year honors.
“Larry [Bird] got Executive of the Year because he put together a team that likes to play together and share the ball,” center Roy Hibbert said. “That’s how we roll.”
Indiana’s unselfish, team approach to the game has yielded impressive results.
The Pacers finished the season with the fifth-best record in the league, with the franchise enjoying its most successful regular season since 2004. Despite the success, Indiana has been out of the national spotlight for much of the season, playing just one nationally-televised game during the regular season.
“We don’t need credit from the media to know what we can do,” guard George Hill said. “As long as everyone in this locker room believes that we can win and everyone is on the same page, that’s all that matters.”
Indiana will attempt to take a commanding 3-1 series lead when it plays the Heat tomorrow afternoon.
The Pacers are confident that they can beat Miami.
“We felt confident when we found out we had the match-up with Miami,” second-year guard Paul George said. “We felt confident that we can win it all if we stay playing together.”
And while the Pacers themselves believe they can make a run at a title, there are still many skeptics who doubt the team’s chances.
“The way we’re playing—how hard we’re playing and the intensity we’re playing with—they’re going to have to believe at one point,” Granger said.