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.