Kiss of Death;
an action or event that causes certain failure for an enterprise
On January 23rd, 2019, the Indiana Pacers received their Kiss of Death. They were 32-15 and sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference. Their star player Victor Oladipo was playing at an MVP-caliber level, and had even received a starting position in the NBA All-Star Game. They were well on their way to a win over the first place Toronto Raptors, when their season ended... Or so we thought.
A silence fell over the Indiana crowd as they watched Victor Oladipo lay on the hardwood after suffering an injury that would certainly end his season. All of their hopes of becoming the new team to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals felt gone.
The Pacers won that game, but all of the questions after the game were about Oladipo and how the players felt it was going to effect the rest of their season. They said what any other professional would say in that scenario. Thaddeus Young, Darren Collison and Myles Turner all said that this wouldn't define their season and that it was now on everybody to step up.
But one thing they said that you don't typically hear, is that Oladipo's leadership wouldn't stop. He would let them know that the goals are still the goals with or without him. Myles Turner described it best.
I don't know [Victor] to be the kind of guy to be down and out and glum everyday. He's gonna be the same positive spirited person that this organization brought him in here for. We get a lot more out of him than just his basketball talents. He's going to be with us.
Even someone with the most positive mindset would at least expect this team to slide back a bit, even if it were only for a moment. The Pacers had other plans.
With just 13 games left in their season the Pacers are tied for third place in the East, are 2 games up on the Boston Celtics, and will clinch a playoff spot with their next win. But having homecourt advantage in the first round is still their goal.
And while this all stems from Oladipo putting this team in a position to be successful, it has been the camaraderie of his team and new additions that have contributed to their great play in his absence. So who really deserves the credit? A lot of people, and that's what makes them the team nobody wants to face.
Bojan Bogdanovic has done the majority of the heavy lifting in terms of the scoring load for the Pacers. Before Olapdipo's injury he was averaging 16.8 points per game, and since he has averaged 22.5 points per game.
Somehow, his field goal percentage has actually gotten better with the increase in shots. So the more he's shooting, the more efficient he's been. His shot has been there all season, and it's not going anywhere once the playoffs begin.
Thaddeus Young has brought his veteran leadership to another level. Players stated that at halftime immediately after Oladipo went down, Young was the first one with a passionate message to the team. In his 11th season, there may be nobody on the Pacers who wants a title more than him.
The only player on the roster to have played more games with the Pacers is Myles Turner. He has been the leader on the defensive end both for his team and individually. He leads the league in blocks by a wide margin, is among the league leaders in points allowed per 100 possessions, and has four times as many rebounds on the defensive end as he does on the offensive end.
His backup Domantas Sabonis has been an under the radar player who could be on some ballots for Most Improved Player. Among players who play less than 25 minutes per game, he is second in defensive rebounds per game. So there hasn't been a huge drop off when he plays in place of Turner.
Darren Collison has been the ultimate steady hand all season. His play on both ends of the floor has made everyone's life a lot easier. And having Corey Joseph come off the bench has allowed the Pacers to play the same style of play for 48 minutes.
But the one player that may have had the toughest transition out of the roster is a guy who has only been with the team for 14 games. Wesley Matthews has been living up to his nickname "Iron Man" as he has done everything they've needed him too. Since being traded to the Pacers, he has been added to the starting rotation, scored in double figures in all but three games, and has played at least 29 minutes in each game.
His biggest moment came when the team was tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder with less than 5 seconds left. Bogdanovic missed potential game winning shot, but Matthews flew in over Russel Westbrook and made the putback layup to win the game in front of that Indiana crowd.
The thing that makes the Pacers so scary is that they truly believe in themselves. When they are locked in defensively, they can beat any team in the league. They are playing with a confidence that would typically only be seen in a team at full strength.
If they were to get the Boston Celtics in the first round with homecourt advantage, they could eliminate the preseason favorites. Leaving Boston with a summer full of questions, and Indiana with a summer full of hope.
There is nothing to lose for this Indiana Pacers team. There will be no pressure on them down the stretch or in the playoffs, which will make it easier for them to dictate the style of play.
"All for one, and one for all" will be more than just a motto in their locker room, it'll be their mission statement.