Absent any context but win-loss record, Wednesday night's between the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks was a bit of a mismatch. The 53-25 Pacers and 14-64 Bucks represent opposite ends of the Eastern Conference standings and have much different incentives to win and lose. Yet, when Indiana head coach Frank Vogel decided to sit all five of his starters vs. Milwaukee, the matchup suddenly became a real contest. The Pacers, mired in the midst of a confounding struggle, would need strong performances from their usual bench players in order to best the NBA's worst team.
It was a tight game, with the two squads playing to a standstill into the final seconds of regulation. Would the Pacers step up to the challenge? Or would Vogel and Co. suffer the shame of losing a gimme game due to their desire to get the starters some rest?
With that runner, the Pacers came away with a heroic 104-102 win.
I don't think any of us should expect to see Copeland taking similar shots in big playoff moments — that task will probably fall to players like Paul George and George Hill. Heading into Wednesday's game, Copeland had managed a mere 218 minutes in 38 appearances this season. He made the most of his opportunity, though, scoring 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting in 17 minutes. That point total ranked third on the team behind typical role players Evan Turner (23 points) and Luis Scola (24 points), both of whom might have wondered why they didn't deserve a night off along with their friends in the Pacers rotation.
At any rate, Vogel can now rest easy (get it?!) that his gambit did not cost his team a chance to make a move in the East. With the Miami Heat's loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Pacers now hold a half-game lead (based on having one more win than Miami) for homecourt advantage through the conference finals with three games to play. It may seem a little odd that Chris Copeland is largely responsible for that accomplishment, but conventional wisdom does say that every team needs contributions from every player to win a title. There are no small parts, only small actors.
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