Win or lose against Heat in Game 7, Pacers deserve recognition among NBA’s elite franchises of last 20 years

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When the Indiana Pacers hired Larry Brown in 1993, he said “I’d like to win an N.B.A. championship for the Indiana Pacers.”

Twenty years later, the Pacers are still searching for their first NBA title. (They won three in the ABA.) But they’ve still belong among the league’s most successful franchises. Here are the leaders in playoff series won since 1994:

1. Los Angeles Lakers, 34

2. San Antonio Spurs, 33

3. Miami Heat, 19

4. Chicago Bulls, 18

5. Indiana Pacers, 17

The Pacers are the only member of the top five without a championship in that span. In fact, the other four – Lakers (five), Spurs (four), Heat (two) and Bulls (three) – have each won multiple titles since 1994.

Indiana’s success is a different kind, an enduring level of quality that stands above good and below elite.

The Reggie Miller-Rik Smits Pacers – with support from players like Mark Jackson, Dale Davis, Antonio Davis, Chris Mullin and Jalen Rose – made back-to-back conference finals in 1994 and 1995 and then again in 1998 and 1999. In 2000, they took it a step further and reached the NBA Finals. That was the first title of a Lakers three-peat, but the East’s next two challengers didn’t combine for as many wins in the Finals as they Pacers had in 2000.

Reggie Miller was still around in 2004, when a group led by Jermaine O’Neal and Ron Artest won a franchise-best 61 games before falling to the Detroit Pistons in the conference finals. Those Pacers played the Pistons, who went on to win the NBA title, tougher than any team all season, giving Indiana a credible case as the league’s second-best team that year.

The Pacers started the next year 7-2 before the Malice at The Palace suspensions destroyed their season. Still, Rick Carlisle led a rag-tag group into the second round.

Now, a team that has completely turned over its roster is one game from reaching another NBA Finals. This time, Paul George and Roy Hibbert area leading a group that also features David West, George Hill and Lance Stephenson.

A couple common links unite these teams. Owner Herb Simon, who bought the franchise in 1983, has remained owner to this day. Donnie Walsh hired Larry Brown in 1993, and though Walsh left for the Knicks for a brief time, he’s back in charge of the Pacers.

A win over Miami in Game 7 tonight wouldn’t push the Pacers past any team in the above rankings, and a lack of a championship will prevent Indiana from winning any argument about the NBA’s best teams recently. But the Pacers deserve more credit as one of the best teams in the last 20 years.

Cavaliers’ Kendrick Perkins not into “all that new stuff” like Chewbacca

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Chewbacca was at Game 3 in Cleveland Saturday. Sitting courtside.

Why? Because growing up on Kashyyyk he played a little hoop and admires LeBron James‘ skill? Because Drake gave him the tickets? Maybe. I mean, it’s not like that was just a clever little publicity stunt for a movie.

After the Cavaliers’ win, Kevin Love decided to make a little joke of it with noted humorist Kendrick Perkins, and it went over as well as expected (with Dave McMenamin of ESPN catching it).

That’s vintage Perkins.

Celtics’ Terry Rozier on Game 3: “We needed to get our butts whooped”

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Cleveland dominated Game 3 Saturday night. They played harder, to start. The Cavaliers’ defensive pressure on the ball was better, they were sharper rotating out to shooters and covering passing lanes. Cleveland’s role players stepped up and helped LeBron James.

Boston, meanwhile, wilted in the face of that pressure Saturday, something it has done a few times on the road these playoffs. The Celtics got away from the things that got them to the Eastern Conference Finals. Guard Terry Rozier put it more bluntly, via A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston:

“I feel like we needed this (loss) to get us back … to get us ready for Monday,” Rozier said.

Rozier later added, “We needed to get our butts whipped. Come back to reality and take care of business on Monday.”

Cleveland is a championship team — from LeBron James on down through the core guys, they all have rings. They have been down before, and heading home it was expected they would play with force. Cleveland’s back was against the wall and they responded.

From the Celtics’ perspective, they also got a little too fat and happy and were not ready for what the Cavaliers came with in Game 3.

Now the pressure is on Boston to push back, to get back to their level of execution and do it under pressure. Make the Cavaliers prove the improved defensive effort was not a one-off game. The Celtics must move the ball and play with some pace, then see if the Cavaliers can keep it together in the face of crisp play.

When this series heads back to Boston Wednesday, it will either see the Celtics in control up 3-1, or the series will be a best of three (with the Cavs still having to figure out if they can win on the road). At home, the Cavaliers are going to play with force again and have some depth. We’ll see if Game 3 was enough of a wakeup call for Boston.

PBT Extra: Can Rockets take Game 2 energy, execution on the road?

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Houston found its blueprint to beating Golden State in Game 2: Strong defensive pressure on the ball, quick switches and communication on defense, getting out in transition when possible, and starting sets earlier in the shot clock and attacking downhill with James Harden and Chris Paul.

Now can they do that on the road? Against a more focused and sharper Warriors’ team?

That will be the question in the next two games of the Western Conference Finals, and it’s what I discuss in this latest PBT Extra.

Cavaliers cruise past Celtics in Game 3, change complexion of Eastern Conference finals

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The Cavaliers were heavy favorites over the Celtics entering the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James has dominated the East for years, and Cleveland appeared to hit its stride in a sweep of the Raptors last round. Boston was shorthanded and inexperienced.

Were the Celtics’ two wins to open the series, as impressive as they were, really enough to override everything else we knew about these teams?

The Cavs walloped Boston in Game 3, 116-86, Saturday. Cleveland now has four of the NBA’s last five 30-point playoff wins – two against the Celtics last year, one over Toronto last round and tonight. (The Cavaliers lost the league’s only other 30-point game between, to the Pacers in the first round.)

Boston still leads the series 2-1, and teams up 2-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 80% of the time.

But the team up 2-1 is usually the one seen as better entering the series. That isn’t the case here, not with LeBron on the other side. And the leading team usually isn’t so woeful on the road, which will remain a major storyline entering Game 4 Monday in Cleveland.

The Celtics bought themselves margin for error, but they blew a lot of it tonight.

It’d be an oversimplification to say the Cavs just played harder, but they did, and it went along way. They chased loose balls, tightened their defense and moved more off the ball offensively. Cleveland jumped to a 20-4 lead, led by double digits the rest of the way and spent most of the game up by at least 20.

LeBron (27 points, 12 assists, two blocks and two steals) dazzled as a passer and locked in as a defender. He received help from several players:

In a low-resistance effort, Boston didn’t goon up the game at all.

The Cavaliers still have plenty of work ahead to reach their fourth straight NBA Finals, but tonight, they showed a path to advancing. Climbing out of their early series deficit now looks far less intimidating.