Do teams that get tested early, like the Pacers, go deep into the NBA playoffs?

Mike Zarrilli

Recent history says the Pacers' hopes for a deep postseason run are in trouble.

SB Nation 2014 NBA Playoff Bracket

The Indiana Pacers nearly squandered their series against the Atlanta Hawks, but after winning Thursday to force Game 7, they've apparently found a silver lining. Rather than dwell on their recent issues and assume the worst, the team seems to be embracing what it's gone through.

"Teams that are tested like this in the first round usually go very deep in the playoffs," coach Frank Vogel reportedly told his players before Game 6, a must-win game that Indiana did in fact win.

Now the Pacers have a chance to advance to a second-round matchup against the Washington Wizards with another win Saturday, and suddenly all of those issues against Atlanta would be in the past. Or at least, that's probably something Vogel wants his team to believe after everything that's happened.

Do teams that get tested early in the playoffs actually go deeper, though? We wanted to put that theory to the test by looking at how conference finalists from the past five years fared in their respective first-round matchups.

The results, quite frankly, don't look to hot for Indiana. While we can point out some rare occasions where a team rises from the ashes of a shaky start to the postseason, most teams that start off crumbling tend to fall apart at some point. The average series length for a conference finalist over the past five years? Just 5.05 games.

Games needed in 1st round
YEAR 4 5 6 7 AVG. LENGTH
2009 1 2 1 0 5
2010 1 1 2 0 5.25
2011 0 3 1 0 5.25
2012 2 1 1 0 4.75
2013 2 0 2 0 5
TOTAL 6 7 7 0 5.05

Since the Boston Celtics needed seven games to dispatch the Hawks before winning their NBA title in 2008, no team has gone to Game 7 in the opening series, then proceeded to make it through the next round.

The closest example might be the 2013 Grizzlies, who went down 2-0 to the Clippers before roaring back to win the series in six. Memphis then beat Oklahoma City in five games to reach the conference finals, where the Spurs swept the Grizzlies on their way to a Finals appearance.

Meanwhile, the 2008 Celtics may seem like a somewhat relevant comparison, but that team was in a much different situation.

When the Pacers entered this postseason, they were floundering, having posted a 12-13 record since the beginning of March. Back in 2008, Boston entered its series against Atlanta on a roll, with 21 wins in 25 games over the same time frame.

Once that Celtics team was actually cornered into a Game 7, it ravaged Atlanta with a 99-65 beatdown at the Garden. Does anyone think the Pacers have that kind of effort coming against the Hawks on Saturday? Me neither.

So no, Coach Vogel, your theory doesn't appear to be on point. While it may sound like a nice notion -- the team that struggles early bonds together, learning from its mistakes to eventually triumph -- the NBA playoffs have little interest in such things. This is a wasteland waiting to take you down, and through six games this postseason, the Pacers have proven to be highly vulnerable.

Even if a win in Game 7 pushes Indiana to the next round, it doesn't really change that. The Pacers may be the No. 1 seed in the East, but regardless of what happens Saturday, they're not much of a favorite going forward.

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