Normally, we wouldn’t cram these two things together, but this is being done on purpose. Sure, some of it is time constraints, but mostly it’s to at least symbolically remind the Pacers and their fans that last night’s win will go for naught if the Pacers don’t close the deal tonight when they host the Cavaliers.
If the Pacers are really going to build on last night’s win in Miami, it will start tonight in Conseco.
To get a sense of what happened last night, it’s necessary to consider a lot of factors.
Consider this: Arguably, Roy Hibbert was outplayed by Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Hibbert managed only 9 points and 5 boards in 21 foul plagued minutes. Big Z scored 12 points, grabbed 8 boards and blocked 4 shots. OK…it’s not really arguable. Z won this matchup. Yet the Pacers still won, because Solomon Jones came off the bench to get more rebounds (10) than he’d had in the first 11 games combined (9).
Consider this: Danny Granger, Darren Collison, and Roy Hibbert combined to go 12-for-40 from the floor, and each of them had negative +/- ratings (-3, -10, and -8, respectively). Yet the Pacers still won because T.J Ford, Mike Dunleavy and the rest of the Pacer bench outscored Miami’s reserves by an astounding 40-4 margin shooting 50% (16-for-32) against Miami’s 13% (1-for-8).
Consider this: Indiana shot only .411 from the floor, including .348 from three, for an eFG% of .456. Yet the Pacers still won because they held Miami to an eFG% of .419 and forced 22 Turnovers (while committing only 13).
Consider this: Miami shot 38 free throws, while the Pacers took only 13. At one point in the third quarter, Dwyane Wade was T-ed up for actually arguing a no-call when his team had a 28-4 advantage in FTA’s. Yet Indiana won because Miami missed a third of those freebies, and because the Pacers pounded the Heat on the glass – grabbing 48 of the 54 chances off of the defensive board.
All things considered, this was a damn good win for the Indiana Pacers. Understandably, the national attention will be all about Miami and what’s wrong with them. Some weight must be given that, and I will in a little bit, but let’s not give the Pacers short shrift.
This wasn’t a replay of the Denver game, where the Pacers buried a team under a galactically improbable third quarter avalanche. No, this game was much closer to Saturday night’s loss to Orlando. A game where despite foul trouble for Roy Hibbert and offensive struggles for Danny Granger, the Pacers hung tough. Truth be told, the Pacers were really far more dominant in this game than the final score indicates. The Pacers missed a lot of good open shots, and Miami was – to put it kindly – getting a favorable whistle. This was the first time that the Pacers have beaten a (likely) playoff team on the road since defeating Houston in November of 2008.
Miami didn’t give this one away, the Pacers took it.
A Few Words on Brandon Rush
After Brandon Rush scored 14 points and blocked a ridiculous five shots in last Thursday’s win over the Clippers, I felt compelled to undercut his performance. What I said – in part – was this:
Brandon Rush is a perplexing player. Besides his five blocks, he also chipped in 14 points and was +18 on the night. However, it wasn’t a particularly impressive game to see. This wasn’t one of those quiet games where you just don’t notice his contributions. This was one of those nights where you (or, at least, I) noticed Rush mostly for crappy play. He spent the first half of the first quarter being gutted like a fish by Eric Gordon. He had four turnovers, all of them – if memory serves – the result of his now-trademark dithering.
There will be none of that today. In a game that featured LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh for the opposition, and Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, and Darren Collison for his own team, Brandon Rush was irrefutably the best player in the building last night. It wasn’t close. He scored 20 points on 9-for-15 shooting, and, just for good measure, added 7 rebounds and 4 assists.
I’ve yet to confirm reports that Pat Riley was forced to give Brandon three cartons of Lucky’s and a month of yard privileges after the game to get Dwayne Wade (1-for-13, 3 points, 5 TO’s) back from Rush.
Great job, Mr. Rush. Now keep it up.
A Few Words about the Heat
First, I refuse to use all caps to type Heat. It’s silly and pretentious and reminds me of this clip from Steve Martin’s L.A. Story.
Moving on, I realize that in the post-Decision world of 24-Hour news, Interwebzzz, forums, and the Heat Index, everything associated with this team gets examined and skewed and tortured until it looks like something Picasso might have done after having a lost weekend with Jim Morrison. I realize that it takes time to build a team, and that it’s only been 14 games. However, I also realize it takes almost no time at all to warp something, and when it happens when the foundation is being laid, the effects are profound and permanent.
And 14 games into this supposedly historical experiment, things are starting to look pretty warped.
Listen, it would be one thing if I was watching a Heat team that was “missing” plays – that was slightly out of sync while the players were trying to figure things out. That’s not what I’m seeing. This is just Five Guys – without the bag of french fries.
They appear to be disjointed, both offensively and defensively. James, Bosh, and Wade don’t play off of each other. Effectively, they stand in line behind each other, each taking their turn at being the focal point of some gawdawful Iso/PnR concoction. It became incredibly apparent that Pacers simply looked at Miami and said, “To Hell with you. Hit jump shots.” And the Heat proceeded to oblige them, flinging brick after brick in the general direction of the basket – intermittently broken up by either LeBron or Wade hurling themselves at the basket in the hopes of getting to the line.
While that’s ugly, they probably have enough talent to be pretty damn successful in spite of that. In fact, I’m sure that the Heat will take at least one occasion this season to beat the Pacers to a bloody pulp.
The more profound problem I saw last night was that they slow-played their coach. Well, at least that’s how it appeared to me. It looked very much like a team that was just waiting for somebody – specifically Spoelstra – to go away. God knows I’ve seen that before on many teams – but not 14 games into their existence.
After last night’s game, LeBron was asked what was wrong with the Heat. This was his response:
“What we’re lacking are two things: That is fun and a little bit of swagger right now.”
That’s not going to get it done. I had said in a post earlier this season that the most important thing for the Pacers to accomplish this season was to grow together. The same is true for the Heat.
For the Pacers, this growth is crucial in establishing a sound foundation for the future – the core of a team will someday compete for the conference title. For Miami, this growth is crucial in vying for a championship now and for the next few years.
If James, Wade, and Bosh banded together in South Beach because they thought it would give them their best shot at winning titles, then they will be proven right if they put in the work. If, on the other hand, they did it because they thought it would make it easy for them to win titles, they’re in serious trouble.
Bring that attitude into the playoffs, and Boston or Orlando or the Lakers will rough them up and dump their body on the side of the road for the buzzards. If they take too long to get their act together and start playing as a team, or if they think they can tank on their coach without consequences, then it may never come.
The Trap Game
It’s probably a bit presumptuous to call this game a “Trap Game.” Though the Pacers beat Cleveland relatively easily a couple weeks ago, the Cavs were without Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao. Also, the Pacers are only one game ahead of Cleveland who sits at 5-7. Still, this is a home game against a losing team, and it’s one the Pacers should win if they’re serious playoff contenders.
It becomes a trap game because the Pacers are going to be less than 24 hours removed from arguably their best win in years.
Looking at tonight’s KPI’s, you can see the Pacers have a clear statistical advantage in pretty much all of them. Of course, that’s indicative of nothing, as the same was the true for the Heat over the Pacers last night. As these are products of the Four Factors, I’ll break those out below, but I’ll do it differently than I did yesterday.
Yesterday’s Game Notes put each team’s Offensive Four Factors along side each other, then each team’s Defensive Four Factors along side each other. Today, and going forward, it will show the counterparts. In other words, the Pacers Offense vs. the Opponent’s Defense, and the Pacers Defense vs. the Opponent’s Offense.
The Pacers have been far from an offensive juggernaut this season, but Cleveland doesn’t offer much in the way of resistance. If the Pacers can avoid careless turnovers, then it will be unlikely that the Cavs will force many. As with most teams how efficient the Pacers offense is will be dependent on hitting shots. Cleveland will likely surrender good looks, but the Pacers have been far from consistent in knocking those down.
Looking at the Defensive Four Factors for the Pacers gives a lot of encouragement for those hoping to see the Pacers become a top 10 defensive team. They are seventh in eFG% and third in DRB%. Looking over the last thirty years, the correlation of rank in DRB% to the rank DefRtg has been 0.51, which isn’t quite strong, but is a pretty positive indicator. The correlation between the ranks in Def eFG% to DefRtg has been an extremely strong 0.84 (with 1.0 being a perfect correlation). Tonight’s counterpart is in the bottom third of the league in both of these categories offensively, and the Pacers will need to capitalize on this matchup of their strength vs. the Cavs’ weakness.
Some things to watch:
- The starters in the backcourt are up in the air. Collison and Rush started last night, but Collison tweaked his ankle, and Rush ostensibly was starting for matchup purposes. The e-mail preview sent to subscribers to Pacers.com showed Collison and Dunleavy as starters. However, that may not be entirely reliable. Assuming availability, I would expect to see the same starters as last night, but last night, it was literally a game time decision.
- Through the first ten games, Roy Hibbert averaged 31 minutes a night while committing only 3.5 fouls per 36 minutes. In the last two games, he’s averaged only 25 minutes a night while fouling at a rookie-season pace of 7.1 fouls per 36 minutes. Two games does not a trend make, but if there’s a repeat tonight, there’s something to worry about.
- Danny Granger’s defense was fantastic again last night, and the BBR.Com Advance Box Score gave him an individual DefRtg of 75. It’s far from a perfect metric, but a number that good certainly tells a fair story. Unlike previous games against Joe Smith, Vince Carter, Eric Gordon, or LeBron James, there’s no clear assignment for Granger. It will be interesting to see if he can keep up the intensity
- Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao could cause some problems for the Pacers, as he has in the past. In his career vs. Indy, he’s shot over 70% from the floor. More importantly, he’ll be a quick, high quality defender that could disrupt the post and cut action for the Pacer offense.