"Chasing the stardom will turn you into a maniac."
As I went to get a shot of Danny Granger walking off the court from Saturday night's game one 81-77 loss to Orlando (1-0), I couldn't help but sing the familiar rhymes of Kanye West from Drake's collaboration of "Forever". Here was Granger, the captain, the man, the main identity of the third best team in the Eastern Conference walking off the court on the night that was suppose to be his. During his seven years in the league, he had patiently waited to have his official coming out party to the basketball world, to the nation on the grandest stage of all in the NBA playoffs.
This wasn't an eighth seed with a losing record playing a number-one seed Chicago Bulls like last year. That was a team that realistically had little chance to succeed, that was supposed to bow out in the first round with ease. And with four losses in five games, even if the contests were close, one could argue that did take place.
Saturday night was Granger's team for the first time in his life being the Goliath, the team to beat, the favorites going head-to-head with the Dwight Howard-less Orlando Magic. This was suppose to be easy, a potential sweep of a reeling team that was suppose to come into Indianapolis on a Saturday night in front of a loaded Bankers Life Fieldhouse and fold quicker than a house of cards.
And yet here was Granger, head down, walking back into the locker room.
You don't think Danny Granger, who is perhaps a better pure-scorer than Pacers legend Reggie Miller, doesn't think about his legacy with this franchise? Miller himself statistically can just be viewed as a three-point shooter who played above-average (not great, not superstar level, but above average) for an extended period of time. And there's nothing wrong with that, and this isn't meant to be a diss on Miller. He was great, a worthy Hall of Famer, but his induction into Springfield couldn't have been solely due to the numbers.
It was the moments. Chicago Stadium. Madison Square Guarden. Market Square Arena. For a brief period during the month of April and through the month of May, Miller captivated the world with the heroics that fans can only dream of from their basketball heroes.
And Granger must hear about it everyday. I can't help but think as the main player for this franchise for an extended period now, it must weigh so heavily on his mind.
Granger, who has seen the best and the worst of this team, has taken quite the beating this year too. When the Pacers started off slow, everyone was questioning if he could fit in with this new look Pacers that was all of a sudden the deepest team outside of the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. The columnists, the talk show hosts, the bloggers, and all the fans had one simple message for him; we don't need you to be the man anymore, we just want you to help us win.
So what did Granger do? He took 198 shots less than he did in 2009-10, the last time he played 62 games in a season and averaged 18.2 ppg, the least since his second year in the league. Granger deferred to the likes of Paul George, David West, and Roy Hibbert more, and the team started winning.
All should have been good.
Yet the whispers were still out there, but the whispers weren't exactly soft as they came in the form of the national media tearing down his team at every chance they get.
"What Indiana is doing is cute, but they can't be taken seriously until they have a main scorer."
Which is strange, because outside of Billy Knight (26.6 ppg in 1977) and Adrian Dantley (26.5 ppg. in 1978), nobody in Pacers NBA history has averaged as many as his 25.8 during his All-Star season in 2008-09. In fact, only a handful have scored more than his 24.1 ppg during the following season after that.
But being a scorer isn't enough in this league anymore. Just ask Lebron James. You have to be a scorer in the moment, and only then will you have officially earned your stripes. It doesn't matter what you do in early April ) against the Knicks and Rockets in the same week (59 points combined for 11 of 16 from behind the arc) or the upset victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder (26 points, 6 rebounds).
In reality, it isn't fair. Especially when you actually quantify how important Granger is to the team, as ESPN's Bill Simmons found this on Friday:
Granger's stats in the Pacers victories: 20.5 PPG, 43.6 percent shooting, 43.9 percent for 3s.
Granger's stats in the Pacers losses: 15.2 PPG, 37.2 percent shooting, 27.0 percent for 3s.
But for Granger, Saturday night was suppose to be his moment to finally shed "the monkey" off his back. The fans and media in the state of Indiana knows he has it in him. Head Coach Frank Vogel knows he has it in him, and teammates know he has it in him. After the loss to Orlando, Darren Collison and Paul George both said that 100 out of 100 times, they want all important shots going through Granger.
So what went wrong? How could Granger and the Pacers cough up a five-point lead with less than three minutes left on their home court, or surrender an 11-0 Orlando Magic to finish the game? How could Granger have the worst quarter of his professional career, basically disappearing with an 0 for 3 from the field? How did Granger miss two free throws that would have nailed the coffin door (up 77-75 with 1:14 left), miss a lay-up that would have put the team on top (down 78-77 with :45 left), and then openly traveled at the top of the key with 10 seconds left in the game when down 80-77?
Nobody can truly answer that question outside of Granger himself. He seemed to be lost just as much as those at Bankers Life who watched, admitting he can't remember the last time he missed two free throws, let alone turn the ball over as bad as he did on the traveling call.
Will Granger be able to push these mistakes back and regain his confidence? He likes to think so.
"I think we get over this pretty quickly, said Granger. "You don't want to linger on losses. You don't even want to linger on wins. We've got to get some rest and come back on Monday."
Perhaps Monday Granger can have his moment back. Maybe he'll come up clutch down the stretch, be the hero, and the Pacers can right the ship and eventually knock the Orlando Magic out of the playoffs like everyone originally assumed would happen in the first place.
But until then, his team is down 1-0 in the series, with the rest of the nation feeling dignified with their thoughts that Danny Granger can't be the guy to push them over the top.
Sometime in that time period, somebody will point out that Reggie wouldn't have done that. Sometime in that time period, some disgruntled fans will be wishing this team could finally find that superstar to lead them past the upper-tier teams in the NBA.
And somewhere, I'm sure a mixture of all of this must weight on Granger's mind.
Pacers Playoffs Notebook: Granger's ability to be clutch questioned in loss
Saturday night was Granger's team for the first time in his life being the Goliath, the team to beat, the favorites going head-to-head with the Dwight Howard-less Orlando Magic.
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
The Baltimore Sun encourages civil dialogue related to our stories; you must register and log-in to our site in order to participate. We reserve the right to remove any user and to delete comments that violate our Terms of Service. By commenting, you agree to these terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.