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New, Invaluable Experience Awaits Pacers

by Conrad Brunner || Caught in the Web Archive

April 13, 2011

Ahh, youth.

The sunny perspective of the uninitiated can be refreshing, no matter how illogical. Consider the theory advanced by 21-year-old Paul George, who has convinced himself the Pacers' almost total lack of playoff experience will somehow become an advantage.

"Not a lot of guys have been (to the playoffs) so I think we have that pulling for us -- that drive to win and to go out and prove we can make a name for ourselves and hopefully win a series," he said. "I think the fact that nobody's really been there, that's what our advantage really is."

It's an interesting thought but history tells a much different story. So do the Pacers that have been there before.

Though four of the five starters will be playing their first postseason game when the Pacers open up against the Bulls in Chicago this weekend -- the lone veteran is Danny Granger, who played six games in his rookie season in 2006 -- the Pacers are not without old hands.

The irony is the players with the most experience in the playoffs are likely to be among those playing the least. James Posey has 65 postseason games, including two championship rings (Miami in 2006, Boston in 2008) but is only on the fringe of the rotation.

Jeff Foster has 48 games, all with the Pacers, but comes off the bench. Dahntay Jones started all 16 games of Denver's run to the Western Conference Finals in 2009 but presently stands as the fifth wing in what has been a four-man rotation since Mike Dunleavy's return. T.J. Ford (16 games) will play only in an emergency and Solomon Jones (16 games) likely won't play at all.

Given his commitment to a starting lineup that includes a rookie (George), two second-year players (Darren Collison and Tyler Hansbrough) and a third-year pro (Roy Hibbert), how is interim coach Frank Vogel -- also a playoff rookie when it comes to the head coach's role -- to tap that valuable vein of experience?

"These guys talk to them all the time, they talk to them about how the intensity just raises and teams are going come after you and it's an atmosphere like they've never seen before," Vogel said. "You can't really understand it until you've experienced it but it's just great to hear it from somebody that's been there."

Posey, who shared his stories of the postseason as the team was in the midst of its battle with Charlotte and Milwaukee for the eighth seed, said the time for talk is over.

"That part is over with," said Posey. "It's a different brand of basketball. If you've been in it, you know what it is."

The intensity level doesn't just increase during games. Practices, film sessions -- even interview sessions with increasing hordes of media -- all are taken to a new and more challenging level.

"The excitement level, the physicality, the emotions that go with it, the level that it raises to, there's nothing you can really put into words," said Dahntay Jones. "You try to practice harder, mentally focus in and accept it's going be a physically battle but you really won't understand it until you get there."

Granger started three games against the Nets in 2006 but was not a primary option in a lineup that featured Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson. But he has been there, even of just for a relative glimpse, and has an awareness of what is to come he is trying to communicate to his teammates.

"I'm trying to impart to them, and so are Jeff and Dahntay, the playoffs is a whole different animal," Granger said. "A lot of intensity, the refs let a lot of stuff go, you've got to keep your composure, sold-out crowds every night. You've really got to have your focus, especially on the offensive end. The defense will shut down your offense because everybody knows your plays. We've got a book this thick (holding his fingers about 2 inches apart) of the other team's plays. You've got to execute to a T to try to score."

Truthfully, all the talk from veterans, all the regular-season games that were crucial to postseason hopes can only prepare a team so much. This is the deep end of the NBA and the only way to learn to swim is dive in and paddle like crazy.

"There's nothing you can do to simulate this," Vogel said. "That's why they call it experience."

Think of how much fun this has been already, and the games haven't yet begun.