Remember when the Indiana Pacers weren’t long for the playoffs?
Remember when Frank Vogel should have been fired?
Remember when Roy Hibbert couldn’t play anymore?
Remember when Paul George was a shadow of his All-Star self?
Remember when the Washington Wizards were too tall a second-round order?
Seems like a distant memory now, but it wasn’t that long ago when all of the above was all the rage — like just last week, when Washington stunned the Pacers in Game 1 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Top-seeded Indiana, having barely survived a seven-game series against No. 8 Atlanta, opened the Eastern Conference Semifinals with a thud.
As they did in the Atlanta series, the Pacers opened with an embarrassing loss at home. As in the Atlanta series, Hibbert was invisible. As in the Atlanta series, doom seemed just around the corner.
But unlike the Atlanta series, the Pacers aren’t on the brink of elimination. Haven’t even approached it.
Because unlike the Atlanta series, everything that was broken the past two months appears to be fixed. How and why, who knows? But as evidenced by the fact Washington faces not only elimination, but early elimination, coaching, Hibbert and George are no longer concerns.
Heck, even the chemistry is good. Again.
And for that, Vogel deserves credit. Lots of it.
A lesser coach, after all, would not have successfully navigated the storms. The tempest could have, and probably should have, sunk the Pacers. But it didn’t.
Through sheer force of will, patience, determination, and an uncanny ability to tune out the noise, particularly about his job security, Vogel skilfully corrected the list. His approach was slow and painstaking, but it was effective.
And, let’s be honest, courageous.
Ignoring calls to essentially discard Hibbert, Vogel stuck with him. Dismissing accusations of being “too nice” to players, he stuck with his method. Resisting pressure to dramatically alter lineups, he stuck with his plan.
Were there adjustments along the way? Certainly. Hibbert’s minutes were trimmed in the first round, but he never lost his starting job, as was a popular cry only a week ago. Lineups have been tweaked but not overhauled. And game-plans have been tailored without abandoning basic philosophies.
Vogel understands the Pacers are who they are. They were lost in the wilderness for the better part of nine weeks, but here, in this series, they seem to have found themselves.
And that’s all that matters.
Tonight, the Pacers can — and likely will — do what seemed impossible after losing home court advantage: They will bounce Washington in five games.
Not seven. Not six. But five.
Finally performing like a No. 1 seed, Indiana has won three straight games for the first time in the 2014 playoffs. It now controls an opponent that ousted Chicago in five games in the first round. And it is finally getting All-Star performances from its two All-Stars.
What a difference Hibbert and George make when they play like the old Hibbert and George.
How far the Pacers go from here remains to be seen, but this much is certain: They are no longer fodder for the Miami Heat.
A week ago, the Eastern Conference Finals — if they arrived there at all — seemed the end of the road. But now, not so much.
Make no mistake, the path to the NBA Finals still runs through Miami. But the Pacers might just have enough in the tank to get there, after all.
Remember when that was impossible?
It was only last week.
Rick Morwick is the sports editor of the Daily Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.