In a lot of ways, last night in MSG was just more of the same for Indiana: wretched shooting from the outside, turnovers for days and a lot of guys standing around the perimeter waiting for someone else to do something to make the pain go away.
But in one very important way last night was completely different: the Pacers won.
With a half-stingy-defense/half-the-Knicks-were-just-missing-shots effort throughout the second half that held New York to just 33 points over the final 24 minutes combined with a concerted effort by Danny Granger to become the focal point of the offense, the Pacers were able to overcome the same problems that marked their three losses this season to pick up their first win.
Danny has been shooting threes like Dale Davis for the past three outings (going 2/8, 2/10 and 3/12, respectively), but he finally seemed to accept the fact that weird things — Twilight Zone things — were afoot and left the confines of the arc. He used shot fakes and hesitation moves increasingly throughout the second half to get into the paint, where he was either able to find a good shot for himself or create one for a teammate. He recorded just 4 assists in the process, but the numbers don’t account for what he did more often — make a pass that forced the defense to start scrambling so that, after another pass or two, the Pacers got a good look.
(Notably, this is what Mike Dunleavy used to do constantly in 2007-08, and why his absence from the offense can’t be overstated. Honestly, the Pacers lose something when you don’t have Danny on the wing doing what he does best, but Danny taking over that MDJ role and becoming more of a creator than a finisher could inject some new life into an offense that has been extremely unproductive for four games. Keep a look-out for this. It will be significant. Danny might have to start doing things he didn’t have to last year, which might in turn make him even better than last year. His scoring numbers might drop a little and people will start saying “WHHHAAT’S GOING ON” about that, but if he becomes more dynamic with the ball and learns new ways to create offense for the whole team, he will be a better player. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.)
When Danny fouled out with 3:38 to play, it was obviously troublesome. But no matter. TJ Ford was there. Yes, the same TJ Ford who after the first two games had a negative PER and was statistically the worst PG in the NBA.
TJ took the offensive reins and the team didn’t miss a beat, as Ford dropped in 8 of his 16 total points after Danny went to the bench.
And it could be argued that all this was kick-started by Dahntay Jones.
For the fourth straight game, the Pacers offense has generally followed this same series of events: Everyone stands around the perimeter missing shots. No one tries anything else. Players miss more shots. Dahntay Jones goes one-on-one and tries to make something happen, scoring a bucket or two and making everyone who watched him last year in Denver say “WTF? How that happen?” No one else on the team does much of anything else. Dahntay Jones aggressively tries to get to the hoop again and this time fails miserably.
Rinse and repeat.
And this is what was happening in the first half last night as well, with Dahntay maintaining a higher level of success in forays with the ball in this game than he did in the previous three. He seems to be adopting the role that Jarrett Jack carved out for himself last season. While I really hope Dahntay’s aggression doesn’t become as critical to this offense as Jack’s did last season, his willingness to attack the hoop should be praised, particularly when considering just how unwilling everyone else on the roster has been to do anything with the ball so far this year. (The second half of last night notwithstanding, anyway.)
And this has shown, albeit it only over a short time frame, a pretty significant difference between Dahntay’s approach to the game a guy like Brandon Rush’s approach. Buried in Bob Kravitz’s ramblings about people not talking to him were some thoughts from Jim O’Brien that helps illustrate the point I will attempt to make.
“We’re not getting (ball reversal), we’re not running the passing game enough through the elbow area and we find ourselves sometimes standing and watching one another,” coach Jim O’Brien said. “When we do move, we’re getting the shots we want, but 3-for-22 (from behind the 3-point arc) is not who we are as a shooting team.”
“I think the first unit has moved fairly decently, frankly,” he said. “The newer guys, even though they’re talented offensively, don’t yet have an understanding of what we’re trying to get done with our passing game.”
When that stagnation happens, there are two general approaches a wing player can take. Brandon Rush has seemed to become frustrated, sullen, confused and start giving off a woe-is-me vibe. Surrounded by a floundering, inoperative offense showing no signs of productivity, he turns into Eeyore.
It’s raining. Oh, bother.*
Whereas Dahntay sees the same situation and, despite knowing full well that his personal offensive arsenal is very limited, starts thinking “I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON NOR DO I KNOW WHAT I SHOULD BE DOING NOR EVEN WHERE I AM REALLY — BUT I’M STANDING HERE HOLDING THIS ORANGE ROUND SPHERE SO I SHALL RUN TOWARDS THE IRON AND GLASS TARGET IN FRONT OF ME. WHY IS MY INNER MONOLOGUE YELLING? I DON’T KNOW. LOUD NOISES.”
He doesn’t dwell. He doesn’t think. He just turns into Brick Tamland from Anchorman and follows his instincts. He kills a guy with a trident.
Then he puts the ball on the deck and tries not to get called for an offensive foul as he runs for the hoop with the grace Earl Campbell. In Mike Wells’ piece talking about Dahntay’s aggression, Dahntay himself added some more insight on his willingness to attack the basket through three games.
“That’s definitely the reason behind some of my turnovers,” Jones said. “I’m still trying to make the best decision with the ball. The most challenging part is seeing how I can compliment [sic] the guys around me. I haven’t played that much with them.”
As someone just watching, it looks like his decision on how to *complement* the guys around him, more times than not, is to just realize that those guys aren’t going to take any initiative. So he takes it himself. Like I said before, hopefully this doesn’t become a permanent fixture of the offense. Cause I think even he knows that he is not the most qualified to do so. Don’t get me wrong. I like Dahntay. He brings a lot to the team. But despite his 19 points on 15 shots last night, the team is not going to be sniffing the playoffs if he has to be a primary offensive weapon — with “has to be” being the key part of that concept.
To me, however, it looked like he inspired Danny to pick up the slack. Danny honestly looked nothing but shocked and perplexed for the previous 10 straight quarters as he missed wide open three after wide open three after wide open three. Hell, I was shocked, too.
But it seemed that after seeing Dahntay continually force things and try to create seams in the defense where no real seams existed, it all clicked for Danny. “Hey, I’m way more talented with the ball than him and he keeps getting into the paint while I stand out here chipping orange paint off the rim. Wait? Maybe I should try that. It might just work”
Try he did. And succeed he did as well.
Then when Danny fouled out, in came TJ to do the same thing. It was great to watch and hopefully it will be a lesson that translates to games against teams that aren’t the Knicks.
Two final, unconnected thoughts:
Hibbert’s touches on the block were all great to watch. His effectiveness with a jump hook that increasingly looks like a legitimate weapon in this league can bring a new component to this offense that really didn’t exist last season. Even when he doesn’t score, the defense is forced to rotate while he is making his move, which helps to open up shooters on the perimeter. Thus far, no one on the roster aside from Earl Watson can make even open shots, so that part of this hasn’t exactly led to points, but these guys are good shooters so that will turn around. Has to.
And lastly, I should have talked about the defense more. It was very good last night and, actually, has been since the Atlanta game. The Knicks were held to an eFG% of .436 last night, which is phenomenal. And if you take the Atlanta game out, the Pacers opponent’s eFG% for the season is a paltry .451, which is excellent.
* In fairness to Brandon, he was better last night for some stretches than he had been in the prior three. And he wasn’t the only one playing the Eeyore role for the first 14 quarters of the season. Danny, Luther Head, TJ and even Troy all were guilty quite often as well.
More Brick Tamland, less Eeyore.