Area 55 Conquers Staples Center
As I write this, it is currently 2:30 AM here in Los Angeles on January 23rd, 2012.
There have been several attempts on my part at sleeping in the past few hours, but they have all been completely futile. Actually, I’ve had a difficult time even catching my breath, stopping my heart from beating out of my chest and wiping this enormous grin off of my face.
Last night in Staples Center, the Pacers pulled off one of the gutsiest wins I’ve ever seen. They were quite literally bloodied and bruised, with Roy’s nose bleeding repeatedly all over the court, but they never stopped fighting. This game proved that the Pacers balanced offensive attack is more than a match for the 1 Superstar, 4 Role-players mentality that teams like the Lakers follow. Not only that, it proved that our Pacers are maturing right before our very eyes.
Arriving at Staples Center last night, having many memories of years past where we would get destroyed by the Lakers in Los Angeles, I was nervous! I’ll admit it. You see, we won last year’s game here, but it was the first year in the previous seven that I was not in attendance because my baby daughter had just been born two days earlier. Sitting at home and watching the game on television holding her in my arms as the final buzzer sounded was such an incredible moment for me, and I really wanted to replicate that moment for my daughters first ever live Pacers game.
In this same situation for the last 4 or 5 years, the Pacers would have won maybe one or two games out of ten when put in the late game situation they were faced with against the Lakers. That may even be generous on my part. But this group of Pacers is playing with conviction and passion. This group of Pacers has killer instinct. This group of Pacers is putting itself in a position to be truly special.
Although my wife and I attempted to go down into the lower bowl to say hello and good luck to the Pacers warming up and to the Pacers TV and Radio crews, we were rebuffed by the ever so friendly Lakers bounc… Uh, “Staff”. So making the most of that disappointing situation, we made our way to our seats and got ready for tipoff. Along the way we encountered several other Pacers fans, all with that same look of nervous excitement on their faces that was surely on ours as well.
The mood at Staples was the same as it usually has been in my previous visits. But you could feel it in the air in Los Angeles that there is a changing of the guard taking place. The Lakers are no longer indestructible as they once were, and the fans know it. It was a breath of fresh air walking into Staples as a visiting team fan, knowing that we had every expectation of getting a W if we played our game.
One interesting pre-game factoid was that former Pacer (and Laker) player Kareem Rush was introduced as a recording artist to sing the National Anthem. Needless to say, this elicited a very shocked and bewildered response from the crowd. But to his credit, despite seeming a bit nervous to start out, Kareem did well and got a nice ovation from the crowd. But enough of all that. On to the game!
The game started off with a beautiful drive and dunk by Paul George, but things quickly went downhill. The Pacers quickly found themselves down double figures after failing to hit open shots and playing poor team defense. It was looking like perhaps last year’s win at Staples was a fluke after all. Not only were we down big, but one of our only bright spots in the game broke his nose in the process of “fouling Kobe”. Big Roy Hibbert headed back to the locker room, and things were not looking good for the Blue and Gold.
" Éowyn was not pleased with the Pacers first quarter effort"
Now I am normally not one to pin things on the refs. You have to play through the calls and adjust your game. But last night’s game was just something else. In the first quarter alone the free throw differential was 14-0 in favor of the Lakers. There were phantom calls scattered throughout the game. One of the biggest being a foul on Danny Granger as he made a superb defensive play on Matt Barnes, blocking his shot cleanly with an impressive show of defensive prowess. Most of the night, it seemed as though the Pacers were playing 5 on 8 out there, and as a fan it was frustrating to watch. Nonetheless we clawed, scratched and fought our way back into the game. Roy Hibbert came back in the second quarter, bloody nose and all, and energized our team into a big run, eventually cutting the lead down to 6, which David West cut down to 3 with a beautiful three pointer to close out the first half. The Lakers gave us their best shot, we took our punches (literally) and came right back with a combination of our own (figuratively).
“Éowyn thoroughly enjoyed the halftime entertainment”
Once play resumed we came out hot, with Danny Granger and George Hill keying a big run that saw us gain a 4 point lead in the third quarter. The Lakers responded by doing what they do best...Having Kobe shoot the ball with every possession. He ended up with 33 points in the game, but needed 30 shots to get those points. I will take that any day! The combo of Paul George and George Hill did a fantastic job contesting his shots and making sure his points were difficult to come by. At the end of three quarters, the Pacers went back and forth with the Lakers and ended up trailing by a point after Kobe hit a tough buzzer-beating shot.
In the fourth quarter, when it came down to winning time, our Pacers stepped up and showed the NBA that they were for real. Things were rough going early in the fourth. The Pacers fell behind by as many as seven mid-way through. But just like we had done all night long, we fought back by playing smash-mouth Pacers basketball. We were driving hard to the basket, kicking the ball out to our open shooters on the wings, and making smart basketball plays.
The final few minutes saw the lead see-saw back and forth several times, but we never let down. Realizing that the Lakers one and only move in the final two minutes was the all-too-predictable “Kobe Isolation”, the Pacers began double teaming Kobe and forcing the ball out of his hands. It was quite obvious that no other Laker, except perhaps Derek Fisher, wanted anything to do with the ball in a close game situation. It definitely showed.
The Pacers ended up taking the lead for good on a beautiful cut to the basket by Darren Collison, who was fed the ball on an excellent pass from Roy Hibbert. It was then our defense that sealed the deal for us, stopping the Lakers on four consecutive trips down the court. Credit should also be given to Darren Collison’s clutch free throw shooting late, which extended the Pacers lead to 3 and forced the Lakers to go with an off-balance three point heave by Bryant in the final seconds that missed badly.
“Éowyn was THRILLED by the Pacers effort down the stretch, however!”
Watching this unfold, I was overwhelmed with pride in my team. Going into one of the most difficult places to win a basketball game in the world and knocking off a team that was hungry for a win and trying to avenge last year’s defeat was just an amazing thing to watch. This group of players that the Pacers have assembled is not the flashiest, nor do we have a “Superstar” dominating our box scores. We play unselfish team basketball. Now we are 11-4 and shocking a lot of people around the league in the process.
“PACERS WIN! PACERS WIN!!! 98-96”
There is still a long way to go for this Pacers team, and no doubt plenty of adversity waiting in the wings. No matter what happens in the coming months for this team, this Pacers fan will never forget the joy of getting to walk out of Staples Center with his wife and daughter a winner, proudly flashing their honorary “Area 55” T-shirts through downtown Los Angeles.
“A great night in LA for a Pacers fan!”
I would like to thank Alan Mowrey, Rob Laycock, Matt Cooper and the entire Pacers staff for all of their help and generosity. Attending this game was an experience we will never forget, and it means so very much to us to know that the team we’ve given so much of our hearts to over the years wanted to give back to us. Thank you.