I’ve watched hundreds and hundreds of hours of sports like football and basketball and I’ve come to understand a few things: I’m somewhat educated on the history. I’m well versed in the intricacies of the game. I’m great with the numbers aspect. If you’ve noticed, these are mostly things that can be measured. The mental aspect of the game is something that will always elude us because we still don’t know everything about the human brain. Throw in the factors of motivation, competition, and a unique aspect of stress and things become harder to predict. The one thing that is so hard to gauge is if and how teams motivate themselves to play their hardest. Why did the star-studded 2004 Lakers team lose to a team of journeymen and role players on the Detroit Pistons? How did Michael Jordan elevate the play of inferior players on his team? How does an 8 seed upset a 1 seed in the first round? If the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Miami Heat in a regular season game – fine. You can’t expect a team to get up for inferior opponents night in and night out.
The playoffs are a different animal. A better team usually wins a seven game series. Adjustments will be made. Players will have multiple chances to make up for bad games. Eventually, somebody will say “WE ARE BETTER THAN THEM. WE CAN’T KEEP LOSING!” In the Pacers locker room, I imagine that being David West. For comedic purposes, let’s pretend its Luis Scola.
In all seriousness, an ass-whooping was handed out Monday night. Don’t let the six point differential in the final score of 102-96 fool you – it was never close. The outcome of the game was never in doubt. The eye test would clearly indicate it was a game between a 5 seed on the road against a 1 seed. Except it was the 5 seed traveling on the road to embarrass the team with the best regular season home record in the league. Does it make sense to you? After a seven game series scare against Atlanta, you’d think the Pacers would realize teams know that they are beatable. Their aura of invincibility that rose last year and cemented itself earlier this season was gone. Atlanta created a spread it out and bust it from downtown blueprint that anyone could mimic. The Wizards were better equipped to use the blueprint than Atlanta was. Shouldn’t that have built a sense of fright in Frank Vogel and crew? The blueprint should help the Wizards win games but…that bad? Was a “green light” for Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal enough to seemingly suffocate and numb the Pacers into submission? In an episode of Breaking Bad, with the similar phrase titling it “Green Light”, Gustavo Fringh didn’t believe fear to be an effective motivator. Maybe he was right. The Pacers should fear the Wizards. It didn’t motivate them enough to come out as anything but uninspired in Game 1. Granted, Gus Fringh quickly changed his tune on his use of fear as a motivational tactic. That’s if well, you consider this an attempt at motivation.
Yeah, yeah the Wizards are hungry. Yeah okay they have John Wall. I get it. The Indiana Pacers are a supremely talented team though. Don’t tell me they aren’t. Roy Hibbert went from looking like an elite paint protector with a growing offensive game to being the next Kwame Brown. Lost, confused, and seemingly depressed. Paul George has top-5 talent in the league and disappeared for long stretches of time. David West, a passionate and aggressive power forward began to look like a rookie who just came off of the bench and didn’t want to press too hard and upset his coaches. They did it in the Atlanta series, and now they’re doing it again.
None of this is to discredit the Wizards. In fact, it’s the biggest compliment. I can’t guarantee John Wall will score 20 points on a 50% clip but I do know he’ll make big defensive plays and push the fast break when need be. I can’t guarantee Bradley Beal will put up 25 again but I do know he’s going to show off his picture-perfect shooting form en route to some clutch jumpers and three-pointers. I can’t guarantee Trevor Ariza will completely shut down Paul George and Co. but I do know he’s going to die trying.
These Wizards are becoming sort of reliable, specifically the starters. It’s the Pacers who I’m curious about. Game 1 looked like a preview of what could be an easy 4-0 or 4-1 execution. Relatively quick and painless. The Pacers didn’t show enough fight in them for me to even think they’ll attempt to force a struggle. It makes for a simple autopsy for the detectives and less work for the coroners. Don’t expect Frank Vogel to huddle over their bodies a la Don Corleone and scream “Look how they’ve massacred my boys.” Doesn’t look like the Wizards will need to use that many bullets.
[Side note]: Forget Don Corleone. What if Gus Fringh was the actual coach of the Pacers? Would that motivate them enough to come out and play to their talent level? Imagine him giving the speech in the locker room before Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Or trying to persuade a player to not quit the team.
If Frank Vogel has somehow, someway found a way to motivate these Pacers then this game should be much closer tonight. The Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd is thirsty for another home win, and if the Pacers lose it will be a media shit-storm for them. Roy Hibbert already spent Monday night being verbally obliterated by David West and other veterans and Paul George made a plea through the media for Roy to step his game up. The Pacers will try their best to do their part in the effort and determination department. If they don’t, the Wizards will have a chance to chop off their other leg.
The Wizards can’t let this one game lead or first game road game robbery make them complacent either. They have to take a full measure in order to truly take advantage of the opportunities they have here in ridding themselves of this Eastern Conference foe. It’s easy to say you’ll remain hungry but much harder to show it. Sometimes we find out the hard way. If the Wizards play as hard as they did last night they should be fine. Easier said than done.
No more half measures, Wizards.