This was a bad loss. A devastating loss. A maddening loss, for many reasons.
But the worst loss in franchise history? A loss that the Pacers can't recover from?
Not if you can avoid getting sucked into the vortex of anger and anxiety.
Social media was in an uproar following the Pacers' 102-99 loss to Toronto Tuesday, and understandably so. For the Pacers to play so well but give away a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter was torturous to watch, and there's plenty of room to debate decisions and actions.
Should coach Frank Vogel have left Paul George, George Hill and Monta Ellis on the bench for 3 ½ minutes at the start of the fourth quarter (shorter than their usual break). Should Vogel have made the highly unusual move to play George all 48 minutes, since Toronto outscored the Pacers by 18 points in the 6:55 he watched from the bench? And why did Monta Ellis drive to the basket when the Pacers needed a 3-pointer to tie in the final seconds?
Then again, it wasn't Vogel who missed all those shots, was guilty of all those defensive lapses, or committed six turnovers in the first seven minutes of the fourth period. The players scored nine points in the fourth quarter, a record low for the franchise in a playoff game. They failed to capitalize on George's masterpiece by getting him the ball for more than three shots in the final period. The bench, particularly Rodney Stuckey, who admittedly played poorly, did not contribute nearly enough. And there's nobody to blame, really, for Solomon Hill's game-tying 3-pointer leaving his hand a literal fraction of a second too late. And maybe it didn't. A photograph showed 0.1 on the clock when the red lights around the backboard went on, signifying the end of the game.
It was all painful to watch, and painful to experience. But that doesn't make it impossible to overcome. Athletes have stronger wills than some fans and better perspectives than some media members, and the Pacers' tendency all season has been to bounce back from bad losses. The problems have come when things have been going well, such as in this game for most of the first three quarters.
For those who consider this the worst loss in franchise history, or the worst they've seen, maybe this list will make you feel better:
May 23, 1970: The Pacers led the Los Angeles Stars 3-1 in the ABA Finals, and had a chance to clinch the championship at home at the Fairgrounds Coliseum in a rare nationally televised game. Champagne was on ice in the locker room and the fans were primed to celebrate. But they lost in overtime, 117-113. Potentially, it could have cost them a title, but they went back to L.A. and won it in Game 6.
April 28, 1971: The Pacers had finished the regular season with the ABA's best record, and fought back from a 3-1 deficit to tie Utah in the semifinal series. They only needed to win a game at the Coliseum to advance to the finals, but lost 108-101.
May 10, 1973: The Pacers led Kentucky 3-2 in the final round and had a game at the Coliseum to wrap up a third championship. They lost badly, 109-93, then bounced back to win the title in Game 7 in Louisville.
June 3, 1994: The Pacers stunned New York to win Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Finals series when Reggie Miller scored 25 points in the fourth quarter. Leading 3-2, all they had to do was win at Market Square Arena to reach the NBA Finals. They lost, 98-91. They followed with a 94-90 loss in New York.
June 4, 1995: The Pacers forced Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Finals series with Orlando with a 27-point victory at Market Square Arena, but lost another chance to reach the NBA Finals with a 105-81 meltdown in Orlando.
June 5, 9 and 11, 1999: Take your pick. The Pacers were the widespread favorite to win the championship and breezed to the conference finals again, but lost three games to the Knicks. They dropped Game 1 at home after a seven-day layoff, lost Game 3 on Larry Johnson's infamous four-point play, then lost Game 5 at home and Game 6 in New York. Fans and media brought out the pitchforks, eager to break up the team that reached the Finals the following season.
May 24, 2004: The Pacers won a franchise-record 61 games and breezed through the first two rounds of the playoffs. They won Game 1 of their conference finals series with Detroit as well, and were on the verge of winning Game 2 at Conseco Fieldhouse. Reggie Miller was headed for what he thought was an uncontested layup that would have tied the game in the final seconds, but Tayshaun Prince swept in pterodactyl-like from behind and blocked it, sending the Pacers home with a five-point loss.
Each of those losses, at the time they occurred, were devastating, and certainly more important than anything that could happen in a first-round series to a seventh-seeded team.
By Friday, if not Wednesday, the players and coaching staff will be over what happened on Tuesday. They might even be inspired by it. And if you know this franchise's history, you know the darkest moments have come after impressive victories, such as the Pacers had on Saturday, and the highlights come after the most disappointing losses. I don't know why that is, it just is.
The Pacers' latest loss fit perfectly into the weird pattern of their season. Now, facing elimination, they have to hope that pattern holds true on Friday.
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