Basketball on a Winter Night in Indiana

I spent my last night in America at a Pacers game with my family.

First, a short review of our dinner: we came downtown before rush hour and ate at Acapulco Joe’s. Joe’s life was inspiring: he tried to sneak across the border seven times before finally breaking through. He tried to go to Minneapolis because he heard there was a job as a waiter available there, but the cashier at the Greyhound station misheard his order and put him on a bus to Indianapolis instead. Soon after he arrived, a stranger lent him $5000 to help him establish a Mexican restaurant which has been in business for decades. After it was successful, a couple friends helped him with his immigration and naturalization papers. His biography emphasized his lifelong gratitude for the help and opportunities he received: the restaurant’s slogan is “God Bless America.” He passed away 25 years ago after a long and fulfilling life. As for the current culinary experience, the entrees were generous and delicious, but the chips, salsa, service speed, and price left something to be desired. As far as Mexican food goes, it’s 2010, and downtown Indianapolis can do better.

Twelve-year old Conseco Fieldhouse is still a gem. It’s basically a large-scale version of Butler University’s Hinkle Fieldhouse, AKA the Sistine Chapel of Basketball, but nobody minds. We Hoosiers can’t get enough of Chuck Taylors, 1950’s fashion, and murals on bricks, as long as the facilities are clean. When the Celtics needed a new building, why didn’t they reuse the saintly design of the Boston Garden?

Parking isn’t bad considering the stadium is in the center of the city rather than snuggled between major highways and parking palaces like Comiskey Park or Giants Stadium. We didn’t have to walk far in the cold. Our seats were at the very top, and though it was dizzying at first, it might have been the best place for appreciating the stadium itself. The temperature was perfect, which is not something you can say about every building.

The band of LCD screens on the rim of the upper deck injected some life into the place: to be honest with you, the crowd was subdued, and half the crowd was wearing green because so many of the Midwest’s Celtics fans drove down for the game. Pacers basketball is better this year, but the Colts are hogging the city’s love, and a lot of people still haven’t gotten over the Malice at the Palace. The team has been mediocre for a decade, and it’s hard to have spirit after such an enervating run, even if a lack of support might drive it out of business.

The performances and presentations during breaks in the action (the part you miss when you’re watching on TV) were the standards, and if I went to every game I might get tired of T-shirt cannons and races between computer-animated shoes, but I don’t. The trivia question (the single-game team rebounding record is 37 by George McGinnis) was mind-blowing, and the Simon Says competition at center court during halftime, run by a professional Simon, was more exciting than the main event! The next time you party with your friends, after everyone is good and drunk, bust out that game. Please.

A couple high school friends happened to sit right in front of me. (I ran into another old friend in the restroom, but that was hardly the place for shaking hands.) That was a great surprise and helped make up for the result of the content.

December 28, 2010: Boston 95, Indiana 83

When the Lakers beat you, it’s because they’re more talented. You don’t feel bad as much as you admire them and wish you could be like them. When the Celtics beat you, it’s because they’re more disciplined. Their defense is so good that they ruin what you’re trying to do and make you feel incompetent. The Pacers put up a good fight for the first thirty minutes. They looked crisp and young, and they made the Celtics seem rudderless without injured point guard Rajon Rondo. But the boys in blue lost their concentration, shooting guard Marquis Daniels became the leader of the Celtics’ offense, and things spiraled out of control (4th quarter score: 29-16 Boston).

This was my first and only chance to see Shaq in person, and he didn’t disappoint: he really is huge. Like a (comically large mythical creature of your choice). He was the first person I recognized from my seat in the watchtower. He shot 6 free throws (making 5 of them!), dunked and made a floater, and committed six clumsy fouls in sixteen minutes. So I got the whole experience.

When I want to understand a game, I look at the box score. It has almost everything you need to know. The Pacers got a few more rebounds and free throws, and the Celtics committed a few less turnovers, but really, Boston won this basketball game in the simplest way possible. They made more shots. The Celtics made 37 of 73 (51%), and Indiana was 29/78 (37.2%). Of those, Boston made 6 of 11 3-pointers (54.5%), Indiana 5 of 17 (29.4%). This result fits the Celtics’ profile.

All the Celtics played well except washed-up former Pacer Jermaine O’Neal. As I mentioned before, Daniels was solid (12 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks, only 1 foul and 2 turnovers). They needed him because the Pacers’ defensive shell was strong enough to keep the Celtics out of rhythm and out of the paint for three quarters. The Big Three didn’t disappoint.

As for the Pacers, The New Roy Hibbert sparked the offense in his limited minutes, but Danny Granger (5 for 21) looked like just another NBA player who’s overrated because he shoots a lot. Josh McRoberts, who used to be a friendly, bright-eyed high school freshman who had to duck every time he got on my bus, was limited to hoping someone would toss an alley-oop to him through traffic, and on defense, Big Baby Davis, who looks slower, rounder, and weaker, lit him up. Nor did McRoberts contribute anything else like rebounds or creativity. For the season as a whole, though, my old classmate is doing much better, and I’m happy he’s home.

The Pacers don’t have any star players who can carry them. They need everyone to work together, which means having energy on defense and vision on offense. This time, they lost their focus late in the game, and their opponents didn’t, so the home team struggled with the shot clock, settled for bad shots, and threw passes to people who weren’t looking. Even when things were going well, though, they missed some opportunities for sweet plays. Collison and Granger are leaders in name, but I didn’t see excellence from them.

Is creativity something that can be learned? If so, I’ll feel more hopeful about our future. At the very least, we’re not a bad team anymore, I got to see the Celtics go to work, and it was a social and inexpensive way to enjoy basketball. It was worth the trip.

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