Indiana Pacers 91, New Jersey Nets 83
In the words of Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s Leon, that’s how you dooz it, Larry.
Beating a bad team you’re supposed to beat on the road is never a given. Even when that team is 0-10. And especially when that team is 0-10, desperately looking for a win and features perhaps the best sub-25-year-old post scorer in the entire league.
But that’s what the Pacers did last night. They went into the IZod Center, smacked a hapless Nets team in the mouth at the opening tip and never looked back, leading wire-to-wire and really never giving New Jersey any hope, even on a night — another night — where they shot poorly. This was the fifth straight win for a once-oh-and-three Indy squad that looked fairly hopeless itself two weeks ago.
And, by and large, this streak has been created through defense.
Aside from the Boston game, during which the Pacers shot 40/76 from the field (and 9/18 from behind the arc), the defense has piggy-backed the offense. Overall, the team has shot 44.5% during the last five games and only 36.0% from three. For perspective’s sake, every team in the NBA aside from the Clippers and the Timberwolves shot 44.5% or better from the field last year. And all but nine teams shot better than 36% from three-point range.
This means that the Pacers have amassed a five-game winning streak while shooting poorly — and while the team’s second- and third-best players, Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and Troy Murphy, have been wearing suits on the sideline. And, oh yeah, doing so alongside Jeff Foster. I know that four of these wins have come against the Nets, Knicks, Wizards and Warriors, and that these teams are a combined 6-34 so far this year.
Still, just like last night, the team is winning with defense. And that statement is something that I would not have believed three weeks ago. We listened to Larry and Jimmy preach it all summer, but it’s been some time since Pacer fans saw any real commitment to defense, let alone actual results.
Nevertheless, guys like Earl Watson and Dahntay Jones have been difference-makers. Like he did last night in keeping Rafer Alston in front on him, Watson rarely allows his man to destroy the top of the defense. And like he did last night in forcing Chris Douglas-Roberts into a lot of bad shots, Dahntay has played good man-to-man D on the perimeter even while accepting a larger offensive role than expected. They have brought an aggressive mindset to that side of the court and helped empower even the more-offensively inclined perimeter players to dig in their heels.
Then there’s Roy Hibbert, and to a lesser extent Solomon Jones, backing up everyone. The bigs did a good job making Brook Lopez work hard for his points last night. His line of 26 points, 16 rebounds and 5 blocks is surely impressive, but he had to take more than a third of his teams shots to score 26 points. If it takes a guy 27 shots to score 26 points, you are definitely doing something right as a defender.
Last night, the success came from forcing a visibly tired Brook into long jumpers rather than letting him get position down low. Some of it was by New Jersey’s design as they brought him out on the perimeter for the pick-and-roll. And some of it was just Brook choosing to pick-and-pop rather than get back down to the paint. But Roy and Solomon definitely had something to do with him opting for jumpers rather than battling for spot on the block.
Even when Brook was getting good looks inside, Roy and Solomon were there to make even his dunks hard. Jones’ rejection of the big fella’s stuff attempt might have been the most emblematic play of the season to represent the team’s new “you might score a lot of points on us, but it won’t be easy” mentality. And while Roy still lacks the quickness and reaction time for me to proclaim him an elite shot-blocker in this league, let’s keep in mind that I’m saying that about a guy who is blocking 2.5 shots per night so far this year. And while Solomon is often caught out of position on defense, he is still managing to swat 1.3 per night in under 20 minutes a game.
More important than simply thwarting three or four possible field goals per night, however, is that these guys patrolling the paint give everyone else the license to stay close to their men on the perimeter, knowing that there is always someone that can bail them out if they get beat. Cause they did get beat at times. Like Brook, CDR definitely looked impressive at times, too, but he often faced tough help defense as well as good perimeter team defense that forced him into a lot of tough shots with the shot-clock running down. In the end, CDR’s night was almost the same story as Brook: 27 points on 25 shots. Coach O’Brien will take that every time.
Offensively, there wasn’t a lot the Pacers did worth talking about. Except, of course, Roy. Doc Hibbert was a beast on the block and punished Lopez. Finishing with 19 points on 11 shots and 5 offensive boards (of his 10 total rebounds), it was quite possibly the best offensive evening of the 23-year-old’s young and looking-more-promising-by-the-second career. He looks to be way ahead of schedule. This is a good thing. A very, very good thing.
Danny was back to his early-season poor shooting, something that is starting to get really annoying, but I’ll start getting actually concerned about this if it’s still going on closer to Christmas.
Brandon Rush? How could you not be concerned about his offense? He went 2/10 last night (perhaps as a tribute to his backcourt mate TJ Ford’s exact same 2/10 line?) and just continually looks indecisive, timid and confused out there on the offense. At this point, I’m not even sure you could put together a 30-second highlight tape of his offensive game this year, and nothing he did last night could possibly be included. This is worrisome. I had hoped that Luther Head would be able to step up and put a few points on the board given Brandon’s struggles, but he didn’t look much better in his limited time last night either.
But that game is over.
Tonight, the Knicks are on the schedule. And, as it so happens, the Knicks are another bad team.
Looks like the team has a little more business to attend to.
Better luck next time, Brook and CDR. And consider yourself lucky, Mr. Anderson.