The 2004-05 Indiana Pacers had hopes of doing big things that season. They were a team with a lot of depth, and a lot of talent. Indiana looked like they were ready to take that next step, but it all went wrong on November 19, 2004. First, it started with an altercation between the Pistons’ Ben Wallace and the Pacers’ Ron Artest, which ended in the stands of the Palace, in a brawl that would later be known as the “Malice at the Palace.” In the aftermath of this brawl, Artest would be suspended for 71 games, while Stephen Jackson was suspended for 30 games, and Jermaine O’Neal would get hit with a 25-game suspension.
The Pacers were never the same team in 2005 after that night against the Pistons. They would make the playoffs that season, but were eliminated in the second-round by Detroit.
Jonathan Bender, who was apart of the 2004-05 Pacers, believes that team could have gone to the NBA Finals:
“I think we would have went deep. We had a huge potential to get there(NBA Finals), Bender said on the Go4it podcast. “With the depth that we had, with the talent that we had, we could have definitely have made a deep run for it. I would definitely say a team that would have made it to the Finals, for sure.”
While Bender believed the Pacers were more talented than the Pistons that season, he felt the Pacers were not mature enough to beat Detroit:
“They were poised. The whole team was just poised. It was set up right. “Big Ben”(Wallace), you had “Mr. Big Shot”(Chauncey Billups), of course; you got Rip(Hamilton) coming off the screens. They were poised guys, man, and they did well. We were a little “hot headed.” If ‘Malice at the Palace’ doesn’t happen, like I said, I think we would have definitely, definitely got to the Finals that year.”
The Pacers were a very talented team that season, but as Bender said, the team was not mature enough to take that next step, which could have been an NBA Finals appearance and a shot to win an NBA title.
Bender talks about the 2004-05 Pacers below at the 13:31 mark: