The Indiana Pacers have fallen behind the bottom-seeded Atlanta Hawks two games to one in the opening round of the NBA playoffs, even as the player they parted with at midseason is making contributions in a different playoff series altogether. The Pacers treated most of the regular season like it was the postseason, taking it seriously enough to notch the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, even as the defending champion Miami Heat rested its stars and eased into the number two seed. But while the two teams were widely expected to meet up in the conference championship, the Pacers are suddenly having acute trouble with the Hawks, who squeaked into the playoffs without so much as a winning record. Meanwhile Danny Granger, the fallen Pacers star who was dumped for spare parts in February, is making contributions off the bench for the Los Angeles Clippers.
With the very real chance that Granger could now make it further into the playoffs than his former teammates in Indiana, the Pacers are left to ask themselves whether the trade was a mistake. Granger is thirty-one, well into the second half of his career, had become injury riddled of late, was making an outsized salary, and was likely to leave as a free agent at the end of this season anyway. The Pacers felt like dumping his salary now and getting a few pieces back in return was the prudent move. But since it was made, the team’s chemistry has seemed oddly out of whack. Roy Hibbert’s contributions have become questionable. Team star Paul George appears to have lost something. And head coach Frank Vogel got fed up enough with the chemistry issues that at one point he benched the entire starting lineup.
None of the drama was enough to keep the Pacers from winning most nights and locking up the top seed. But they were supposed to dispatch with the Hawks with ease; anything more competitive than the Pacers winning the series in five games would have been considered a surprise. Instead, Indiana will have to push the series to six games just to make it out of the first round, with the Hawks having dominated two of the three games played thus far.
That all points back to the Granger-sized hole in the Pacers roster. The team won fifty-six games largely without him. But in hindsight, was he the glue holding the team’s chemistry in place? After all, before age and injury diminished his star, Granger had been the face of the team and the de facto leader for several years. The points and minutes he’s now contributing to the Clippers’ playoff effort would certainly help the Pacers right now. But his mere presence on the Pacers roster might be more valued; none of his teammates have seemed themselves since he was shipped out.