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A ride worth taking: A game by game recap of my 10 game mini package.
In October of last year when I talked to the man from Pacers Sports and Entertainment, I chose to go with one of their 10 game mini season ticket plans. Based on the fact that I work a strange schedule and shift I had to choose carefully. I ultimately picked their Weekday Slam Dunk package because I could go to every game without taking any time off from work, and it had games against the likes of Philadelphia, Detroit, Miami, and Cleveland. I couldn't wait to see the Pacers play. So without further adieu, here's my season recap, as seen from section 221.
Game 1 - November 17th 2004 vs. Atlanta Hawks
The first game in our package was against Atlanta. Baby Al had a career night, but it wasn't enough as the Pacers turned it on when it mattered and won 93-86. Ron had scored 24 points and held Antoine Walker in check, while we got 25 points and 13 boards out of JO. I remember thinking then that this team was going to do something special. This game took place on November 17th. I don't have to remind anyone here of the events that transpired in their very next game at The Palace of Auburn Hills. I watched with other Pacers fans the world over as my teams title dreams were dashed in 15 minutes by an event that had nothing to do with the game they had just played. An event that never should have happened, or escalated. Like most folks I have limited disposable income. For me to choose to spend it on three cheap seats for 10 Pacers games for myself, my fiancee, and a friend, and then have this happen, I was crushed. The product I had paid for was no longer going to be on the floor. We had only seen one game of our 10 and I honestly felt that they would have trouble winning any of the remaining 9 games. So yeah, for many reasons, I was a little upset, and I didn't see any way they could salvage this already lost season. For the first time as a Pacer fan, my faith wavered.
Game 2 - November 23rd, 2004 vs. Boston Celtics
We arrived at the game with mixed emotions. The Pacers had lost the game after the brawl to Orlando in an inspired but ultimately unsuccessful effort. I couldn't imagine the rest of the season going much differently. Thankfully for me and you, the Pacers had other ideas. I had never seen Paul Pierce play in person and I was excited for that. I'm not a fan of other teams but I do like to see the players that come through the Fieldhouse and Pierce was among the best I would see in the games in my package. This game was very surreal. A sense of shock was still hovering around Conseco and for much of the game it was very similar to the Orlando game. The Pacers kept it close, but it looked like they just didn't have what it took to get over the hump and put this one in the "W" column. Then midway through the fourth quarter, the Pacers found something and turned it around. They made good plays and made points out of the Celtics mistakes. They pulled away for a 10 point win, 106-96. Don't let the score fool you, the game was much closer than that. Tinsley, who had missed the previous game put on a clinic scoring 29 points to go along with 6 assists, and James Jones had his breakout game with 22 points. Afterwards, a dejected Paul Pierce would say "To me, it's one of the toughest losses I've ever been associated with. ... It's very difficult to take." I left thinking that the Pacers might be able to hold it together until JO and Jax2 returned.
Game 3 - December 22nd, 2004 vs. Philadelphia 76ers.
In the month between the Celtics game and this game, the Pacers had endured their longest losing streak in years, 7 games. This losing streak included losing all four games on a Western Conference swing, and back to back losses to the Bucks. Now they had to face a 76ers team with A.I. who was clearly in the midst of his best season as a pro. Better even than his MVP season of 2001. Additionally, the 76ers have seemed to have our number for a few years now, and had beaten us earlier in the season before the brawl on a last second dagger from Kyle Korver. Iversopn was scoring like a madman but the score was close at the half. The Pacers came out on fire to start the third and built a double digit lead. Then the wheels fell off. The 76ers finished the third on a tear, and then came out in the fourth and spanked our guys hard. They pulled away for a 102-90 win. This game was typical of how I figured the Pacers season would go. They had this one under control, but didn't have the veteran presence to keep it under control. At this time, JO wasn't due back until mid January, and if they kept this sort of play up they would be long out of the playoff hunt by that time. This coupled with the losing streak they had endured had me openly voicing my doubts once again.
Game 4 - January 4th, 2005 vs. Milwaukee Bucks
What can you say about this game? JO had made an early court ordered return on Christmas day against the Pistons, and the Pacers had won the following three games leading up to this one. Jermaine had played well in all three games and it was clear that he was on a roll. But no stretch of play could have prepared us for what we were about to witness. I've seen plenty of good basketball, lots of very dominating, high scoring performances. Let me say though, that I have never once seen a 55 point game that looked this easy. JO was simply on fire, hitting fadeaways, jumpers, finger rolls, dunks, free throws, and anything else you can think of. I remember looking at the scoreboard early in the third quarter and JO already had 35 points. We thought maybe he might slow down a bit. We were wrong. He turned it up another notch, and when the Bucks threatened to make a game out of it, he smacked them down with another scoring burst to send them back to their locker room, tail tucked. Final score, 116-99. This game felt especially good because of our recent track record against the Bucks. When I left this game I was obviously on a high. We had JO back, he had just turned in the most dominant performance I had ever witnessed in person, and it was obvious that this was a different team. My faith was back.
Game 5 - January 27th, 2005 vs. Detroit
This was Stephen Jackson's second game back from his 30 game suspension. The Pistons had already beaten us down in our building on Christmas day in JO's return. I picked up two extra tickets to this game for my folks as an anniversary gift. The intensity was high, and there were lots of Pistons fans in the Fieldhouse. Kstat made the trip down and sat one section over from me. I recognized him but I never made it over there to say hi. He was sitting in front of a HUGE throng of loud Detroit fans. Jermaine was the only Pacer that played well, going for 27 points and 9 boards. Reggie and Tinsley had six points combined. It was a terrible game that shouldn't even have been close, but the Pistons didn't play particularly well either. They pulled away late in the third quarter and kept it even in the fourth for the 12 point win, 88-76. Afterwards there were Pistons jackasses running down Alabama street yelling at any Pacers fan they could find. I'd like to think that no Pacers fan would do this in Detroit. This was the third loss in a 6 game losing streak and left the Pacers under .500 at 20-21. I was still confident that the Pacers could turn it around, but doubts were starting to creep back in.
Game 6 - February 9th, 2005 vs. Charlotte Bobcats
The Pacers 6 game losing streak was over and they had recently beaten a very good team in the Dallas Mavericks. The Pacers jumped on them early and often and held an 18 point lead at the half. Good thing, because they played like a steaming pile in the second half and barely hung on for the 94-87 win. This type of game typified what the pacers were going through at this point in the season. Tinsley was out because of his now infamous "bruised left foot" and it showed in the up and down play of the Pacers. I was happy to see former Pacer Primoz Brezec go for a double-double in the midst of his breakout season. JO was still on an unbelievable streak at this point of the season. It seems like we got 25+ points and 10+ rebound out of him every game there for a while. The Pacers were hanging around, but still not playing well enough to secure a playoff berth as they were still uner .500 after this game at 23-25.
Game 7 - February 23rd, 2005 vs. Miami Heat
I love Shaq. I can't help it. I have hated and continue to hate the teams that he has played for, but as a player, I love Shaq. I have never been able to see Shaq play in person. Last season, I bought tickets to the Lakers game here, but Shaq missed the game with a nagging injury. I was excited that I would get to see Shaq play in this one, or so I thought. As it turns out, he came down with another minor injury and sat this one out as well. This game was sold out, and Conseco was full of fans that were jocking Dwyane Wade. That's why the outcome was especially satisfying. The Heat took this one down to the wire behind a monster 38 point game from Wade. In overtime, the Pacers were down 91-89 with a minute to go. Then Jermaine took over. He got a tip in to tie it late, and after a defensive stop, he hit the game winner with Wade and Melvin Ely in his face. With 11 seconds to go, Wade pushed off on Jax and missed a three that would have won the game as time expired. Final score, 93-91, and lots of Dwyane Wade fanboys with nothing to cheer about. This was game four of a five game win streak that would leave the Pacers finally above .500 at 28-26. I could see something starting to gel.
Game 8 - March 16th, vs. Utah Jazz
Coming in to this game the Pacers were without JO who had injured his shoulder against the Nuggets. For years I will remember JO stepping up to the line after that injury with his right arm dangling at his side, and calmly nailing two free throws with his LEFT hand. But enough about that. In the meantime, the Pacers had brought back Dale Davis. There's not much to say about this game. The Jazz just weren't a very good team this year. The Pacers had beaten them a few games prior to this one on their floor, and the Jazz were playing this one without Carlos Boozer. The thing that stands out for me as I remember this game is the fact that Stephen Jackson beat AK47 like a rented mule. I mean, supposedly AK is a top flight defensive player in the NBA. You couldn't have told me that after watching Jax beat him on a variety of moves both inside and out, on his way to 28 points. It was so bad at one point that they were bringing help in for AK. When's the last time you saw that happen? Dale Davis also had a monster dunk on the assist from AJ. I remember on the replay on the center scoreboard it looked like the guy trying to guard Dale was gonna wet his pants. The Pacers broke this one open in the 3rd quarter and never looked back, coasting to an easy 103-84 win. They came out of this game 32-31, and very much in the playoff hunt.
Game 9 - April 6th, 2005 vs. Cleveland.
At this point in the season, the Pacers were playing by far their best stretch of basketball, and Cleveland was playing by far their worst. The Pacers swarming defense held LeBron James to "only" 20 points, and the Pacers outscored them in every quarter on the way to a 21 point win, 98-77. With the Cavs trying to scratch their way back into it, you could tell LeBron wasn't feeling it as he made a pass that got picked off by Jax and then committed a foul on the easy layup at the other end. This stretch of ball found the Pacers in their longest win streak of the season at six games, and six games over 500 at 40-34. They hadn't yet clinched a playoff berth, but it was at least very likely at this point. The already reeling Cavs never recovered, missing the playoffs after once leading the Central Division earlier in the season.
Game 10 - April 20th, 2005 vs. Chicago Bulls
As we walked towards Conseco Fieldhouse from the south lot at South and Alabama streets, we could already tell something was different. Scalpers were begging ME for tickets. This might be somewhat normal for a weekend game, but a Wednesday night? No, there was definitely something different. We arrived early by our standards. We usually stroll in around the time the ligths are going down for introductions, but this time we arrived around 6:20 and were greeted by an already HUGE crowd buzzing in anticipation of what they were about to witness. I bought a program, and a very nice book put together by the Pacers that had great pictures, quotes, and congratulations regarding Reggie's career. As we got to our seats, we found the very nice "Thank You Reggie" posters that were placed by the Pacers. Instructions on the back informed us to hold them up after reggie was introduced. During introductions, there was a long pause after the other 4 starters had been announced. The crowd began the familiar "REGGIE, REGGIE" chant, before the announcer called his name to an earth shaking round of applause. I'll get to the game in a minute, but first let me tell you that I thought the whole thing was done very well. During timeouts and breaks between quarters, there were congratulatory messages for Reggie displayed on the center scoreboard from various people like, Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and others. I don't know if these messages were shown to those watching on TV or not, but I thought they were a nice touch. As far as the game goes, the Pacers came out lifeless in the first quarter, falling behind by double digits early. Over the final three quarters though, the Pacers beat them in every quarter to overcome the early deficit and win the game 85-83. Throughout the game there was a particularly annoying Bulls fan sitting near me in a bright orange Illinois T-shirt that would absolutely NOT shut the hell up. I can usually tolerate fans of other teams. I have never wanted someone to be physically harmed so badly in my life, and I don't even feel bad for thinking that. Toward the end of the game, when AJ hit the three to put the Pacers up by four, he snuck out, much to the chagrin of the nearby Pacers fans who wanted nothing more than to be able to rub the same crap he had dished out for the whole game right back in his face. Every time Ben Gordon would touch the ball he would remind us rather loudly "That's the rookie of the year right there" right before Ben completely missed the iron on a shot clock violation. Everyone turned around and laughed at him when that happened. As far as the after the game stuff goes, it was very classy. Reggie received a standing ovation for nearly the entire ceremony, and when Larry and Reggie shared the floor for a few moments there was a thunderous applause like I have never experienced before. At the end, I literally had to wipe away tears when Reggie finished his speech. The car the Simon's gave Reggie looked WAY nicer in person than it did on the TV replays I saw. You could tell it was a rare, high dollar ride. You won't find one of those on a car lot. I'm honored that I was able to attend Reggie's final game, and be a part of the wonderful celebration that sent him off. I know he'll remember this night for the rest of his life, and I was there! Thank you Reggie.
Anyway, that is my recap of the season through the eyes of a mini season ticket holder. I wanted to do this, so that Pacers fans who cannot go to the games for financial or geographical reasons can get a feeling of what it was like riding through this roller coaster of a season, and getting to experience some of it in person. All in all, the Pacers went 8-2 in the 10 games in my ticket package. Initially, I thought I had made a bad investment after the brawl, and swore I'd never do anything like this again. Now I'm trying to figure out how to afford a half or even whole season package for next year. Rick is a great coach, and we have a wonderful nucleus of young players that will be at his disposal. Absolutely none of what you have witnessed over the last 18 years would have happened had Reggie not arrived and elevated this franchise from mediocrity to greatness. Thanks for reading. I hope that you have enjoyed it, as much as I enjoyed writing it.