Game #14 Recap: Fragile

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Last night, during the game, I tweeted this:

Game #14 Recap: Dallas Good, Pacers Bad

I cannot tell you how tempting it is to simply go with that. Really, when it comes down to it, that’s pretty much the core of what happened last night.

Dallas is a team with two future Hall of Famers surrounded by some talented and athletic role players. They have Rick Carlisle, and appear to still be in the period of their relationship with him where his excellent basketball mind still eclipses his utter inability to run a locker room. They are establishing themselves as serious contenders, equipped with a very potent offense and a solid defense.

The Pacers, on the other hand, are a team that has one injured and struggling All-Star, surrounded by a cast of poorly matched role players. While I am of the opinion that O’Brien has done a generally good job here, he is basically a middle of the road coach. He’s not going to greatly enhance (or impair) the talent he has at hand.

The Pacers 113-92 loss to the Mavericks last night was not damaging in and of itself. Even at home, a team of the Pacers’ quality is generally reduced to hoping for a win against a team of Dallas’ quality, as opposed to expecting a win. The problem is the way they lost.

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With the possible exception of about a five-minute flurry towards the end of the first half, your Indiana Pacers were completely and irredeemably uncompetitive. They rarely attacked at either end, and they got pounded on the glass 54-33.  They settled for jump shot after jump shot. After having only 2 turnovers in the first half, they piled up 13 in the second. Despite the fact that Dallas was credited with five second half steals, I cannot for the life of me remember a single Pacer turnover that wasn’t unforced. Dallas recorded some impressive defensive stats, but they accomplished it largely by watching the Pacers miss a lot of rushed jump shots.

Last night’s 21-point loss marked the seventh time in eight losses that the margin was double digits. That’s almost half of last year’s total, and we’re barely one-sixth of the way into the season. Eleven of the Pacers 14 games have been decided by double digits, compared to a league low 24 last season.

It would be nice to agree that this team is Jekyll-and-Hyde, as Danny Granger termed it a couple of days ago. But it is really more Heckle and Jeckle. If you look at the season as a whole, it’s not a case of either playing unbelievably well or unbelievably poorly. It’s really a case of some unbelievably poor play peppered with a hot quarter or half here or there against weaker competition. To my recollection, they have not put together four good quarters once this season, though they have strung together a lot of bad quarters.

Too often, this team seems to collapse under their own frustrations. Bad breaks almost always snowball into a run for the other team. They seem very fragile, as if they’re about to shatter at any moment. Some of this could be coaching, and some could be the injuries giving players more responsibility than they’re prepared to handle.

However, I think a lot of it is simply a void in leadership within the roster. Danny, while a great guy, simply doesn’t have the temperament to be a team leader. This is actually true of everyone on that team. There are far too many passive personalities. This is where the team really misses Jarrett Jack.

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Many believe that Dahntay Jones has filled JJ’s shoes admirably, even exceeding him. I am not one of them. I like Dahntay a great deal, and I think he is going to be a valuable player for this team during the transition. I love the attitude he brings to the team, and I think he has some fine leadership qualities. However, he seems to bring a different type of energy than Jarrett.  Now, clearly I don’t have first hand access to the locker room, so this is speculation, but Dahntay seems more confrontational than JJ (the row with TJ notwithstanding.) The energy from the team and in the locker room was much more positive last season, and I’m forced to conclude that Jarrett Jack was  a big part of that.

Sometime this weekend, the Pacers will depart for a four-game Western swing. This is perhaps the most forgiving trip out West I’ve ever seen, playing four teams with a combined winning percentage of .443 as of this morning. They’re going to need to take this time and this trip to get their collective act together, or this season’s going to get away from them in a hurry.

Game Notes:

  • Mike Dunleavy was strong in his return. It took him exactly 16 seconds to get his first bucket, cutting strong to the basket and receiving a pretty feed from Jeff Foster. He was on the floor for the last few minutes of the second, when the Pacers cut a 22-point lead down to 9. He finished with 13 points in 16 minutes.
  • If you’re watching to see who’s losing minutes to Dunleavy, last night’s blowout might not be a great indicator due to the extensive garbage time. Dahntay finished with 25 minutes, 9 below his season average, and Brandon Rush played 27.
  • Buckaroo Banzai (Tyler) had a promising performance cut short last night, when he missed the second half with a bruised knee. He finished with 4 points, 5 boards, and a couple of assists in his 8 minutes. There was no word after the game as to how badly he was hurt.
  • The home crowd expressed their displeasure with the Pacers’ performance, booing loudly for turnovers and missed shots throughout the second half.
  • Perhaps the Pacers should have known it wasn’t going to be their night at the end of the first quarter. Jason Terry launched a three that slammed off the backboard bounced directly to a member of the Lollipop Guild who had somehow managed to wander onto the court.  The munchkin promptly picked it up and drained a three at the buzzer.

Lollipop_Guild

“We represent the Dallas Mavericks. The Dallas Mavericks. The Dallas Mavericks. And in the name of the Dallas Mavericks, we wish to let you know we kicked your ass!”  (From L to R: Rodrigue Beaubois, Jason Terry, JJ Barea)



Tags: Dallas Mavericks Danny Granger Game #14 Game Recap Jim O'Brien Mike Dunleavy Jr Tyler Hansbrough

  • 1st

    That last note was hilarious. Well done.

  • kester

    I heard post-game comments from a few players, and the coach, to the effect that we need to play with more force, effort, continue to get to know each other better…adjusting to the additional available players…need to play ‘better.’…

    I don’t see the post-game down here in Georgia, so maybe I missed it, but I didn’t hear anyone say we need to take it to the basket more, and quit settling, or immediately choosing, the long jump shot.

    They should say that. They should do that. But I don’t hear any comments that tell me they’re even thinking about it. Would that thought be against some JOB philosophy? Do we have to make the 3s drop first, then we can attack the basket? But not until then?

  • Tim Donahue

    Excellent question, Kester. I can’t tell you 100% what his philosophy is without first hand discussions, but my answer would be no, that is not against JOB’s philosophy. In fact, I think O’Brien would love attacking the basket, given my overall view of him. However, it’s my guess that O’Brien is not giving them this direction. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that Jimmy’s not giving them much direction on offense at all.

    You know me relatively well from PD, and you’d probably consider me a defender of O’Brien. I like Obie fine, but I don’t consider him a great coach. However, I consider the general view of many who have consistently attacked O’Brien to be completely misguided. To (over)simplify, the broad accusal is that he focuses way too much on offense, and pays only lip service to defense. It seems relatively obvious to me that the opposite is true.

    I can’t find the article, but Peck posted the content on PD a couple of years ago: (http://www.pacersdigest.com/showpost.php?p=633897&postcount=1), but this quote from JO seems absolutely dead on:
    “He tells us the offensive end is ours, the defensive end is his,” O’Neal said. “We have to play the way he wants us to play [defensively].”

    It has been my opinion for some time that O’Brien is over-engineering the defense, trying to cover all of the deficiencies of our inside players, while almost neglecting the offensive end. He gives general direction, urging more motion and taking good shots, but I don’t think he has done anywhere near enough to make sure players understand exactly what that means. There is too much left to the discretion of the players without making sure that discretion is fully developed.

    So, I think if you asked O’Brien if he wanted his players to look to go to the basket first, he would probably say, “Of course,” and look at you like you were stupid. Then if you asked the players, they would probably give you some equivocating answer about just getting “good shots.”

    This is all exacerbated by the make up of the team and the situation they’re facing. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that the directive for both Bird and O’Brien is to make the playoffs…now. Therefore, each injury and each loss puts more pressure on the two of them. Obie had four big security blankets last season: Granger, Jack, Murphy, and Foster. One of them is gone, and the other three have struggled mightily.

    The biggest culprit in some of the offensive dysfunction, IMO, is Danny. He stands around too much, and he settles too much. A lot of it is probably the heel, but let’s not forget that these were issues he’s had earlier in his career. However, there’s really nowhere else to go. There are simply no other options. Dahntay is overperforming, but he (like T.J.) dominates the ball too much. Roy is too indecisive in the post, and we don’t have anybody who can consistently feed the post. Troy is really a safety valve, not a primary offensive option. Brandon Rush spends way too much time in the fetal position on offense. I can imagine that Obie’s eying Dunleavy like a starving man eyes a ham sandwich. So, O’Brien is stuck hoping Danny gets back to being Danny.

    All offenses, regardless of design, rely on its players ability to make shots. It’s arguable whether O’Brien’s is more reliant on that by design or not, but the simple fact is that it effectively is now. When the players’ only instruction is to take “good shots,” then the all the defense has to do is show the players the “good shots” the defense wants it to take. The defense packs it in, guards against drives, digs on the post, and gives unchallenged shots 15 feet and out. With the exception of Danny (and possibly Mike), there is no one on this team that opposing defenses won’t be perfectly happy to give that shot. Viewed individually, any single shot the Pacers get is a decent-to-good shot. However, when these account for more than half of your shots over the course of the game, it becomes the death of a thousand cuts.

    What I think O’Brien should be doing is simplifying the defense and just telling the guys to keep their guy in front of them. Simplify the pick and roll d to have the big try to force the dribbler away, just to break up the timing of it. Tell the players, particularly the guards, to crash the defensive glass. We are getting killed on the defensive glass, which is second in importance, defensively, only to Opp eFG%.

    Then he needs to really focus on the offense. He needs to drill the players until they understand how they are being manipulated. He needs to help design ways to get more shots at the rim. Additionally, he needs to get them more comfortable with each other. He needs to stop mixing and matching, and start giving the players some consistency. He should try and get groups to play together as units. He’s going to have to make some hard choices, and he’s going to have to stick with them. I’d pretty much lock in on a 10-man rotation, and the guys who’d be watching ..for now…would be Price, McBob, Head, Diener, and, regrettably, Solo. Hibbert and Foster would always be Center. Murph and Buckaroo would always be the 4. You could probably mix and match the wings some. Watson and Ford would only play 1.

    Granted, this gets screwed up by the injuries and the minutes limitations, but I think that there is definitely a lack of familiarity that is causing some problems offensively.

    I think if you can get the offense to settle down, and stop being so futile, then the defense will have a much better chance to solidify.

    Don’t know if that answers your question, or gives you anything to think about, and sorry I rambled, but that’s kind of where my head’s at right now.