The Indiana Pacers pointed out in their press release that Nate McMillan had a 3-16 record in the playoffs over four seasons, but the context of that record wasn’t conveyed. The Pacers were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2017, but lost by a combined 16 points as every game was close. Indiana then lost to the Cavaliers again in 2018, but in a seven-game series. The Cavaliers went to The Finals in each of those two seasons.
In 2019 and 2020, the Pacers participated in the playoffs without their All-Star in Victor Oladipo last season and Domantas Sabonis this season.
Indiana’s decision to fire McMillan left him confused as he had just sign a contract extension.
“Yeah, well that was the reason for signing the extension; I was going to get that chance,” McMillan told The Athletic on Thursday. “But in saying that, my thought at the time (of signing the deal) was we would get out of the first round of the playoffs because we were heading down to Orlando with a healthy roster (except for Lamb). I felt confident we could beat those teams. …
“If we had gone down there with that full team, a healthy team, and lost, I would have made the decision for them. But I understand, sometimes you have some bad luck. To me, it’s like what’s happening in this country. We can’t put the pandemic on the guy who’s running the country, but you’ve got to take responsibility for what happens on your watch. And we failed to advance, so I have to take responsibility for that.”
The extension was technically signed before the Pacers left for the NBA campus in Orlando, but was not announced until rumors surfaced that his job was in jeopardy.
“At that time (of the extension), my contract was up June 31 so we had to talk about something (contractually),” he said. “I thought about it and said, ‘Even though we hadn’t started the playoffs, I really thought at the time we were going to advance. I had all my players (except Lamb). Domas was there. I always thought Victor was going to play. We had everybody and I really thought we could get out of the first round. So I signed that extension thinking, ‘OK, next year we’ll be healthy and I’ll give it one more try.
“And then we get down to the bubble and Domas has his injury and it was like ‘Ohhhhh-kay.’ But I know what I said to myself and told the organization, for me, it was about getting out of the first round, so when the decision was made yesterday, I understood. It was a hell of a run with this organization and I think we have a good team and good players – when healthy – but we’ve never really seen this team healthy where everybody was on the floor at one time.”