When Pacers coach Frank Vogel announced he would sit all five starters for last night's game against the Bucks, it was like a thought experiment come to life. Can a good team's second unit beat the starters of a historically awful team? It was close, but...yes!
In a game that saw no team lead by double-digits and 23 lead changes, Indiana's B-team beat Milwaukee's regulars 104-102 with a runner from Chris Copeland just before the buzzer:
The game was an exciting one, if only from a theoretical standpoint: You desperately wanted to see what would happen, but not necessarily actually watch it go down. Because this wasn't Copeland and Solomon Hill and C.J. Watson getting meaningful minutes in just any late-season game—this game mattered. With the win and a Miami loss, Indiana moved back into first place in the East.
The starters were healthy, Vogel said, but could very much use another day off ahead of Friday's showdown against the Heat. But more than that—those starters just haven't been very good lately. The Pacers came into the game having lost 12 of their last 19, and this benching was meant to send a message as much as it was to give them a rest.
"I've been teasing with it the whole month of March and every time I choose to not rest them and play our guys, (they) play poorly and we have consequences to it," Vogel said. "The way we've been playing over the last month is concerning. The way we played against Atlanta was disturbing and something needs to be done."
But rather than just punt a game, Vogel played the odds, choosing to sit his starters against the Bucks, who are somehow three games worse than a team that lost 26 in a row. This was a big game for Milwaukee too, in their quest for the first draft pick, and they proved themselves up to the task.
So why was Vogel allowed to rest all of his starters, when Gregg Popovich and the Spurs were fined $250,000 for leaving their stars at home for a game at Miami last season? The Pacers claimed they're in the clear because they properly communicated their intentions to the league office. The true answer is that this game wasn't on national TV.
The result of Pacers-Bucks is sure to dredge up more talk of that hoary old hypothetical: Could the best college team beat the worst NBA team? (The answer is still no. Even without their starters, the Pacers have nine of the best 400 or so basketball players in the world. UConn has two or three. However, if you'd like to discuss who would win in a fight between 100 Brock Lesnars and 10 silverback gorillas, the jury's still out on that.)