They were one of my favorite teams from the past decade. So much talent. So many wins. All season long, they looked like sure things to make the NBA Finals. Jermaine O’Neal was their leader and even he can’t help but look back at what could’ve been.
O’Neal, talking with ESPNBoston.com as Boston awaits the start of their series with Miami, recalled how a crazy break in the playoffs disrupted a potential championship season that year. The Pacers were rolling in the playoffs before an insanely-long break between the first round and the semis killed their rhythm.
It was April of 2004 and the Indiana Pacers, fresh off compiling an NBA-best 61-21 record, had earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference and a first-round matchup with the eighth-seeded Celtics, who limped into the playoffs with a mere 36-46 record in Jim O’Brien‘s final season.
Indiana proceeded to obliterate Boston, sweeping the series in four games with an average margin of victory of 16.8 points, never winning by less than 13. The final of those victories, a 90-75 triumph on April 25 at the FleetCenter, pushed the Pacers through to the conference semifinals, but with a Miami Heat and New Orleans Hornets quarterfinal matchup pushed to seven games, Indiana wouldn’t play again until May 6, a whopping 11-day break.
“We were off for almost two weeks and they actually gave us too many days off,” O’Neal said. “Some guys went on vacation, literally, in the playoffs.”
O’Neal recalled Wednesday how some players trekked down to New Orleans to catch some of the action in person before the Heat finally emerged from the grueling series. If Indiana had been anywhere near as sharp as it should have been, he said, it would have dispatched Miami about as easily as it trounced Boston. Instead, that series went six games and took its toll on the Pacers, who fell to the eventual NBA champion Detroit Pistons in six games in the conference finals.
Detroit, bolstered by the addition of Rasheed Wallace, went on to win the whole thing. But O’Neal, seven years later, still believes the Pacers should’ve beat them. Sometimes, as O’Neal and the Celtics are sitting back right now waiting for their semifinal series to start, too much rest isn’t a good thing.
Here’s a recap of that epic Detroit/Indiana series, a six-game physical clash that makes a lot of basketball nowadays look tame.
How much rest is too much rest in the playoffs?
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