In the playoffs, all it takes is the next game to change all of that.
As the Pacers and Magic prepare for Game 4 today in the Amway Center, both teams are preaching essentially the same message. Even though Indiana holds a 2-1 lead and is coming off a 23-point blowout in Game 3, nothing is settled.
“It gives us confidence but at the same time this team is dangerous,” Paul George said. “We don’t want to be happy about being up 2-1. We really want to just take it one game at a time and know that this could be a long series if we don’t take care of business.
“Things are going to get tougher, plays are going to get harder to run. It’s all about executing and rising to the next level and the next occasion.”
After Orlando stole the opener when the Pacers went scoreless in the final 4:05 of an 81-77 loss in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indiana won the next two games by a total margin of 38 points.
Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy told his team the landscape of the series could shift with an Orlando victory in Game 4.
“I’ve been through a lot of playoff series both as an assistant and a head coach but you have to realize that this time of year they don’t get two wins for blowing you out,” Van Gundy said. “It’s 2-1 and what we’ve got to do is keep our heads straight, not hang our heads, keep our competitive spirit where it needs to be and come back.
“The only thing that matters is getting ready to play a great game on Saturday. That’s the only thing that matters right now. It’s not about trying to find blame or point fingers or make excuses. We were awful, all of us, me included, we were awful. Now let’s get ready for Saturday.”
Indiana has dominated with its starting lineup, outscoring Orlando’s first unit 214-155. With the starters on the floor, the Pacers have built double-digit leads in the first quarters of all three games. With the starters on the floor, they broke open Games 2 and 3 with huge third quarters.
The propellant has been defense, specifically against the Magic’s dangerous 3-point shooters. In Games 2 and 3, the Pacers limited the Orlando to 13 of 40 shooting (.325) from the arc. In Game 1, the Magic hit 9 of 24 (.375).
“I think our starters are just really dialed in,” Pacers Coach Frank Vogel said. “That lineup we’re starting right now … ever since Darren Collison went down with an injury (and was replaced at point guard by George Hill), that starting lineup has played extremely well together, and they’re continuing to do so now.”
The job hardly is finished, and the Pacers shouldn’t have to reach deep into the memory banks to remember just how quickly things can turn. After losing the opener at home in such stunning fashion, the players could’ve been demoralized but instead rose to the challenge.
Orlando’s players are fully capable of the same type of response.
“I think they’re a great basketball team, quite frankly,” Vogel said of the Magic. “I know (Dwight) Howard is out, but they’re very well-coached, they’re very well-prepared. They play extremely hard. … They’ve got a great offensive system with their spread pick and roll attack, which is very difficult to neutralize. Our guys are really dialed in and focusing in on how to guard that, but it’s still a big challenge and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
With an Indiana victory in Game 4, the series would be all but over.
With a loss, it would begin anew.