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Pain Of Defeat Fuels Motivation To Improve

by Conrad Brunner || Caught in the Web Archive

April 27, 2011

This is why reaching the playoffs, even as the eighth seed, even to lose in five games, is such an irreplaceable experience in the evolution of a young team:

"I'm going to remember this moment all summer, sitting down here, what was said on the court, and it's going to drive me to work harder," said Roy Hibbert, slumped in his locker after the Pacers were eliminated 116-89 in Game 5 Tuesday night in Chicago. "Seriously, once you get a taste of it, you want to be back. I'm going to take some rest and then get back to it, get in the gym, be ready to come back next year."

In their otherwise heart-stopping, gut-wrenching first-round loss to the Chicago Bulls, the Pacers took their first step up the ladder. They know now what the big deal is about the playoffs. They know now that not only does the environment change, the game itself transforms. They know now the value of every possession.

And perhaps most importantly, they know now the difference that can be made in the six months and 82 games that serve as prelude.

"Imagine if we played that way throughout the whole season," said Darren Collison. "Maybe we'd get better seeded, have even more confidence, more exposure under our belt. I'm definitely happy for this team's future."

There are many issues to be decided in the coming weeks, beginning with decisions about the decision-makers themselves. Beginning with team President Larry Bird, General Manager David Morway and interim Coach Frank Vogel, virtually every contract on the basketball side of the operation expires on June 30. Five players (Jeff Foster, Mike Dunleavy, Josh McRoberts, T.J. Ford and Solomon Jones) become free agents.

But the core of this team is intact. All five starters -- Collison, Hibbert, Paul George, Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Granger -- are under contract.

The pain of the present will fuel the purpose of the future.

"I feel terrible right now; we just got eliminated," said Granger, who averaged 21.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals in the series. "We did have growth as a team, a young team, and we showed it. We let a few games get a way in this series. It should've been extended but that's the way the ball rolls sometimes.

"Yeah, we grew but we lost. We let games get away and it's a learning experience. Hopefully we'll take this into next season and build on it and when we get back in the playoffs next year we won't have a letdown."

The climb to contention takes time. Reggie Miller experienced four straight years of first-round exits before the breakthrough of 1994. But the team's foundation was poured in the process and remained unshakeable for six remarkable years.

It is difficult at the moment for the current players to think in terms of what lies ahead, of the base they have established from which to build. But for the first time in years when a player talks about next season the words are spoken with the conviction of experience

"It does hurt. It's disappointing," said Collison. "We've just got to go into the offseason and use this as motivation. We've got to come together this summer and work hard. We have to remember this feeling. We can't forget this feeling. This is the feeling that's going to make us get better next year."