Pondering the Pacers: Indy can Still Hang with East’s Elite

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If you’re a fan of the Blue and Gold, Wednesday’s loss to the Bucks was a tough one to take.

It was one of those games that was back-and-forth throughout, but it came down to the Pacers needing a big play to get over the hump. No problem: just pop it out to Vic…..oh, wait.

The Milwaukee game was the first time the Pacers have really missed Oladipo in crunch time. One of the clutchest players in the league, Victor could always be relied on when it mattered most--just look at the countless game-winners in his brief Pacers tenure for proof. Even though guys like Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young are dependable every night, it was Vic who could snatch games away from the opponent.

During their six-game win streak over the past couple of weeks, Indy handled every team with relative ease. Not counting the Feb. 4 matchup against the Pelicans--which was a grinder (a 109-107 Pacers win), Nate McMillan’s squad won by an average of almost 20 points during the streak.

While the Bucks game might sting a little, it told me one thing: the Pacers can still make it interesting against the top teams in the East. Take a look back at the game Victor went down; they were able to down Toronto (my pick to represent the East in the Finals) even after their best player was carted off. Now, I know the injury gave them some extra motivation that they probably wouldn’t have had in any other game, but it’s still reassuring.

Milwaukee is currently sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings. They’ve got the best player in the conference (Giannis Antetokounmpo), one of the best second options in the league (Khris Middleton), and made one of the best moves of the trade deadline (Nikola Mirotic). It’s safe to say they’re going to make a deep playoff run, and the fact that the Pacers were able to hang with them and, at times, control the game, is encouraging to fans.

Eventually, though, you knew it would get to the point of having to foul once the clock started working against the Pacers. Antetokounmpo is unstoppable anyway, but when guys like Brook Lopez and Eric Bledsoe start hitting, it’s going to be a long night. The night was long for the Blue and Gold, but it almost resulted in a surprising win.

Games like this are what build confidence in a team come playoff time. Just knowing that they can hang with elite competition like the Bucks can sometimes be the deciding factor in a series. Would the Pacers knock off the Bucks in seven games? No. Still, they wouldn’t go down without a fight.

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