Pacers Sports & Entertainment
The Great Eight Home Openers in Franchise History
The Pacers open the 2014-15 season against Philadelphia on Oct. 29 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Like all home openers, it will bring anticipation and the first look at fresh talent. It might also turn out to be a sign of things to come. Or, it might not. History proves that first impressions don't always last, but they're often interesting.
Here are the eight most memorable home openers in franchise history:
- Oct. 14, 1967: Any doubts about the city's interest in a professional basketball team were immediately dashed when the Pacers opened for business in front of a sellout crowd reported at 10,835 at the Fairgrounds Coliseum. About 3,000 of those fans received free tickets, courtesy of the Eagledale Shopping Center, but the house might have been filled regardless. Newspaper accounts reported that about 2,000 fans were turned away after all the standing room only tickets were sold. The Pacers didn't disappoint, defeating the Kentucky Colonels 117-95. ABA commissioner George Mikan was on hand, the players ran through a paper hoop to take the floor, Mayor John Barton threw up the ceremonial first ball, and Roger Brown dazzled with 24 points, eight rebounds and four assists. For anticipation, thrills and promise, it remains the most notable opener in franchise history.
- Oct. 18, 1974: The Pacers were in essence starting over when they opened their eighth season. The core of the team that had won three ABA titles – Mel Daniels, Roger Brown and Freddie Lewis – was gone, and they had moved from the dark, dusty Coliseum to a bright new downtown home, Market Square Arena. The city's fans apparently needed to be sold on the new look, because only 8,473 showed up. They saw a great game, and a memorable game, just one with an undesired result as San Antonio beat the Pacers in double overtime, 129-121. Guard James Silas, one of basketball's all-time unknown stars, scored 40 points, hitting 15-of-20 shots, and future Hall of Famer George Gervin scored 24. George McGinnis opened a season in which he would share co-MVP honors with Julius Erving by leading the Pacers with 37 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, and Darnell Hillman added 18 points and 12 rebounds. The Pacers would go on to finish 45-39 and reach the ABA Finals for the fifth time, losing to Kentucky in five games.
- Oct. 21, 1976: Having been a cornerstone franchise for all of the ABA's nine seasons, the Pacers entered the NBA impoverished. They barely had enough money to pay the league's entry fee ($3.2 million) and keep the front office doors open, and they had not been allowed a first-round draft pick, so they were operating from the other side of the tracks when they began play in the new league. They represented themselves well on opening night, though, in an overtime loss to the defending champion Boston Celtics, 129-122, before 16,178 fans. John Havlicek led the Celtics with 32 points, hitting eight consecutive field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime. Charlie Scott added 28. Billy Knight, playing on a sore ankle that nearly kept him out of the game, led the Pacers with 29 points. Dan Roundfield added 23. “They gave us all we could handle,” Havlicek said. For one night, that was enough.
- Nov. 7, 1987: Fans didn't realize it at the time, but they got their first in-person witness of the greatest career in franchise history on this night, when Reggie Miller made his homecourt debut at MSA. The Pacers had lost the night before in Philadelphia, but won this game over New York, 108-95 before 14,801 fans. Chuck Person led the Pacers with 29 points, hitting 11-of-19 shots and all three 3-pointers. Miller, coming off the bench as he would do for all but one game as a rookie, had what would turn out to be a typical rookie game. He scored 11 points, hitting 4-of-7 field goal attempts and all three foul shots. He did, however, miss both 3-point shots, a false start to a career in which he would become the NBA's all-time leader in 3-pointers made and attempted.
- Nov. 1, 1997: Larry Bird's three-year coaching run with the Pacers is remembered fondly, but it didn't jump out of the gate quickly. The Pacers started 2-5 his first season before hitting stride and going on to win 58 games. They did, however, win their home opener over Golden State, 96-83. Reggie Miller, by now a 10-year vet and one of the league's marquee players, led the way with 33 points, hitting 11-of-21 shots and 3-of-5 3-pointers. Rik Smits added 23 and the newly-acquired Chris Mullin added 12. It also was a notable game for the Warriors, who were playing their first game without Mullin, although he would return three years later for one more season. Bet you can't guess Golden State's starting lineup that night: Donyell Marshall, Joe Smith, Erick Dampier, Latrell Sprewell and Bimbo Coles. Told you.
- Nov. 6, 1999: The Pacers didn't get around to breaking in their third home until their third game of the 1999-2000 season. But it was worth the wait. Conseco Fieldhouse, as it was called then, was filled for the debut, which brought a 115-108 victory over Boston. Reggie Miller, by now a 12-year vet, with six more years still ahead of him, led six players in double figures with 29 points, hitting 12-of-19 shots and 4-of-5 3-pointers. For those scoring at home, Celtics center Vitaly Potapenko hit the first field goal in Fieldhouse history, and Rik Smits hit the first Pacers field goal. The most memorable moment of the evening, however, came at halftime, when the top 50 players in the state's basketball history were introduced. That meant the likes of Johnny Wooden, Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird were brought together to honor the state's basketball tradition, along with a long line of former high school, college and professional stars.
- Oct. 31, 2003: This was one of the least impressive home openers in franchise history, but it stands as a reminder that first impressions aren't always accurate. The Pacers lost to Milwaukee, 93-79, but would go on to start 14-2 and win a franchise-record 61 games. Milwaukee rookie T.J. Ford nearly became the second NBA rookie to record a triple-double in his debut (after Oscar Robertson) with 17 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, but didn't go on to have the kind of career that performance foreshadowed. Reggie Miller – now in his 17th NBA season – had just two points before leaving the game after the third quarter with a sore lower back, and went on to average a career-low 10 points, but he bounced back the following season to average 14.8. Just goes to show you, sometimes the first home game turns out to be just one of 82.
- Nov. 1, 2008: This victory turned out to be just one of 36 in a season that didn't bring a playoff appearance, but it qualified as the start of a new era. Team president Larry Bird, having taken complete control of the front office reins earlier in the year, overhauled the roster in the first major step toward a return to championship contention. The 95-79 victory over the defending champion Boston Celtics (who had been the opponent for the first game in Market Square Arena and the Fieldhouse) is best remembered for Danny Granger scattering his front teeth – or perhaps his bridge – on the court. Granger, who had signed a contract extension the previous day, deflected the ball from Paul Pierce and dove on the floor to get it while the Pacers were leading by 16 points in the fourth quarter. He led the Pacers with 20 points, laying claim to his new role of team leader with the departure of Jermaine O'Neal and Jamaal Tinsley. The newcomers: T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, Jarrett Jack, Brandon Rush, Stephen Graham, Maceo Baston, Josh McRoberts and a rookie named Roy Hibbert. Many more changes were forthcoming, but this was a promising start.
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