Pacers Shook Up the World, KO the Champs


On the face of it, the Pacers 95-92 upset over the Lakers in Los Angeles was a gutty, poised victory in which they held it together late and executed on both sides of the ball. And indeed it was. That’s what happened in the final few minutes.

But this was more than that. This wasn’t just pulling one out on the road against a great team.

This was an ass-kicking.

Indiana outplayed the champs for basically the entire game in a way that you can’t read in the boxscore or even the scoreboard. Weird, I know, but completely true from what I saw. The Lakers fought and clawed to stay in this thing and it took a season-high, Herculean 41 points from a top 10 player of all time just to give them the chance to attempt a 28-foot heave to try to tie the game in the waning, desperate seconds.

No, the Pacers were the much better team tonight. Percentage-wise, both teams shot poorly with LA’s putrid 38.6% making Indiana’s 43.2% look rosy. But there’s a big difference in how those numbers were achieved. Or, “achieved,” if we’re being honest.

The Lakers offense was ugly, sputtering and, again, buoyed greatly by greatness. Even many of Kobe’s makes were not particularly good shots. The ones that the rest of the Lakers were taking? More often than not, they were low-percentage looks.

Indy, on the other hand, simply shot very badly.

There were some turnovers, yes, and there was also a contagious case of fumblitis going around that caused a lot of sloppy ball-handling. But by and large, the Pacers were just missing a lot of good, open shots.

The 4/23 shooting from behind-the-arc was particularly illustrative. Mike Dunleavy missed at least two shots (and I think all three of his bricks) on very good looks. James Posey missed several that anyone would normally drain. Brandon Rush had one that bounced around the rim late and another wide-open look hit heavy iron after Darren Collison caught a great pass from Roy underneath the hoop and decided to kick it out instead of going up. Hell, Danny Granger missed an open corner three when he had enough time to square up, set his feet and sing “Stairway to Heaven” twice before he let it fly. His GM, Larry Bird, used to call corner threes “layups.” And with Danny’s normal accuracy, I was honestly more surprised to see him miss from there than I was to see TJ Ford miss an actual open layup. Twice.

Make no mistake, the Lakers were lucky to hang tonight.

Just by simply making makeable shots in the first half, Indy could have been up by 14 — or more — at the half. Then if the Pacers start out the second half like they did (on an 8-0 run), LA might have been buried. Maybe Mamba still goes Mamba after that and makes a game of it. Maybe he doesn’t.

But that’s the takeaway here: the Pacers didn’t just edge out a win; they smacked the champs in the mouth. Shot-making and execution are different things. They didn’t do a lot of the former this evening. But they did a lot of the latter. And while shot-making is fairly erratic and any given night can play out oddly on that front, execution breeds consistency. Once it becomes habitual, so does winning.

Looks like Indiana might be forming a habit.

A few other thoughts.

  • Roy Hibbert was superb. It would be hard to overly praise him here. He slipped and fell flat on his face on one play and it was pretty funny. That’s the only negative I can really recall. Other than that, he did nearly no wrong. He passed like Arvydas Sabonis out of the post, baiting hesitant double-teamers to hedge his way and then whizzing the ball by their ear to a wide-open cutter for a lay-up. Collison and Rush both did excellent work finding space when their defenders turned their head. This needs to be a constant go-to. Roy is good enough now in one-on-one coverage that getting him the ball deep in the post is always a good look. He might miss, but he’ll make a decent move to create a makeable shot. And if they double? Well, when he is feeling it like he was in Staples Center, the opposition would be wise to just hope he misses a hook shot. He was Detective Alonzo Harris-in-Training Day-surgical-with-this-b**** tonight. Meanwhile, Pau Gasol was 5/15 on the other end with 13 points. Yeah … nice little night for the good Dr. Hibbert.
  • Brandon Rush made Jim O’Brien look really smart at times for opting to go with him on Kobe to start the game. By the time the final buzzer sounded, we were all in awe of Bryant, naturally. But let’s be sure to remember how well Rush guarded him at times, particularly in the first half, forcing him to take frustrated fall-away jumpers with a hand in his face. It doesn’t matter if it’s Kobe. Those still are the shots that Indiana wants its opponents to take. Make some threes next time and I’ll even bring you some orange wedges for after the game.
  • Did anyone else find it odd that not only was the marque point guard acquisition from this summer not on the court in the final minutes — yet again — but the guy that Larry Bird was forced to take on in the same deal, due his terrible contract, was on the floor? (For those scoring at home, that’s Collison on the bench and James Posey on the hardwood.) It worked out great since TJ Ford both scored on a drive to the hoop to put the Pacers up 5 with 90 seconds and later found Hibbert wide open under the hoop for a dunk with 16 seconds left. But it is certainly curious.
  • I liked it better when Mike Dunleavy, Jr. was making everything from behind the arc. Let’s bring that guy back next game. Also, Shannon Brown borderline crippled you with an ankle-breaking move to the hoop in the 4th. I hope you can both physically and emotionally recover from that. (OK. I’ll note that he also swatted Kobe earlier in the game. That was pretty cool.)
  • Lamar Odom is a terrible match-up for Josh McRoberts. Let’s pretty much just forget this game for him. Nice pass late to someone who got fouled though. Forget who he dished to, but he showed poise on the wing while being crowded with the shot clock waning, pivoted a few times and calmly found the cutter (Rush?) who would have scored if he didn’t get hammered and sent to the line. He also had that nice tip-in when Lamar got caught in no-man’s land while half-committing to double Roy on a post move. Two nice plays. A lot of nothing for the most part otherwise. Like I said, forgettable — but nice that he still found some ways to be helpful late on a tough night.
  • Another thing that made this game a little less close on the floor than the scoreboard indicated was the fact that LA also needed what Chris Denari called “a step-back three by Ron” to keep their run going. This, other than a couple of Pau free throws (which were really a Kobe creation as well since they came on an offensive rebound Gasol grabbed only cause Roy sold out to contest Mamba’s drive) were the only points any Laker not named Kobe scored in the final 4:58 of the game. Hurricane Mamba is going to happen. It’s an uncontrollable, unpredictable force of nature. Like a dog sitting down before a tsunami, you might have a few minutes of warning when you see his Trap Jaw start to show. But basically you just need to brace for the impact and be ready to respond. The Pacers did just that and never got overly frustrated. Kobe Bean Bryant is incredible and will make bad shots. But keep forcing him to take bad shots and then get good shots on the other end and the percentages are all in your favor. It will work out more often than not. But let’s not mistake good shot-making for good foundations of winning basketball. Tonight, one guy made a ton of shots. But one team executed well on both ends consistently.

Tags: Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers

  • http://www.kwapt.blogspot.com KobeWearsAPurpleThong

    Pacers playing giant killer this year. Didn’t get to see the game so thanks much for all the info.

  • Jerome

    Great win!! Really impressed by Jim O’Brien and the Pacers, they come to play every game!!!

  • Aaron

    Definitely agree with your analysis, from the opening tip (even though it began with a Hibbert turnover, probably his sole other bad play of the game) the body language of the Pacers was that they weren’t looking for an upset, they were looking for a win. They played and carried themselves like the better team tonight.
    Not enough good things can be said about Dr Hibbert. Gasol is an early MVP candidate, so he dominated one of the best big men in basketball right now. Truly great game by him, and I really hope the Dr Hibbert nickname catches on.
    Also good point about Posey. The contract is still a bit much, but he’s one of the factors behind the Pacer resurgence. I wouldn’t worry too much about Collison. It seems to take point guards a while to find their footing in O’Brien’s system, but I think DC has the talent to make it.

  • Kalvis

    I chose to watch this game over the Colts-Chargers even before Manning’s first pick-6, very glad I did.

    While I agree with most of the analysis, I think McBob had a far better game than you’re giving him credit for. On a number of possessions we benefited from long offensive rebounds, Josh had his hand in more than a couple of those tip backs. Also, he he’s credited for four(4) blocks, most of those coming on attempted putbacks by Gasol. Roy had a solid game on Pau defensively, but Josh helped out effectively. As far as letting Odom score too much, 6 of his points came on long three’s. I’ll take a defense that limits an opponent’s PF to taking 26-footers off the dribble.

    Another positive; Solo’s play the last week. I remind myself every time he’s on the court that the guy can be effective in short spurts and, at 26 I think he still has some of room to grow.

  • O’Bird

    You sound giddy, Jared. Remember that champions don’t get too high and don’t get too low. I have to admit that I don’t blame you at all, though, and I’m feeling it, too.

    After a couple of years of flashes of real promise, growing pains, and a share of bad luck, it looks like something could happen. They’re currently FIFTH in defense, per possession, including fourth in defensive rebounding. With McRoberts and Hibbert, the Pacers can be a ball-movement machine.

    The old word in NBA circles is that you don’t know what you’ve got with a player until the third year. Hibbert and Rush both came back with new bodies and new attitudes.

    Jerryd Bayless for Josh McRoberts? I’ll take it.

    Biggest advance is leadership. Granger, Hibbert, Posey, Collison, Dunleavy – all offering more this year, but as Ford says everyone is listening to the coach (well done on his part, since it sounded like he had a problem with his coach last year). Leadership is also: being empowered to lead.

    AJ Price – be patient, you’ll get there. Paul George the forgotten man can’t get court time – but if he showed what he can do in his minutes so far, it’s hugely promising. Poor shooting, but he passed like a point guard and rebounded at a nice clip – if you can play him on 2′s, then you’ve got something. With his body and desire he could be a very special defender. Again, be patient and work with the coaches.

  • http://www.okaymentary.com the_capital_t

    I thought the Pacers looked like a playoff team tonight. There are some big questions for them still to answer (like that Collison-Ford thing), but I like them as a darkhorse to give a team like Atlanta fits in the first round. I know it is VERY early to say that. But the way they played as a team against the Lakers made a pretty strong statement about their real potential.

    Hibbert…looked like everything everyone wanted him to become back when he was at Georgetown. That dude has worked hella hard to become a good basketball player. I hope he keeps progressing.

    Nice piece, J. With the quickness, too. Good “Training Day” reference.

  • Jared Wade

    Fair enough, Kalvis. Mostly, I was just talking about Josh’s offensive effort. He’s basically a long, athletic PF who can out-quick and out-agile many other fours, but he seemed to have a tough time doing a ton against someone that is essentially a better version of himself.

    @O’Bird … I don’t do giddy. But indeed it is nice to see a team go out and actually do what you think they are capable of doing. Gotta maintain it though. Any team can play well for 10 games. That’s why they make em play 82 before trying to even begin to proclaim which teams are actually good.

  • Ian

    A couple things stick out. First, the Pacers basically were even with the Lakers on Free Throw Attempts. Their other games against marquee teams have always been heavily slanted towards the opponents. Its especially surprising considering this was at the Staples Center. If, like against Miami and Oklahoma they had given up 20 extra freebees, this wouldn’t have been close. Were they just moving better on defense, less reaching? Or were the Lakers settling for too many Js?

    Another thing, before we give Kobe too much credit, it took him 33 shots plus the misses that don’t count because he got fouled, to score those 41 points. I think any team can live with the opponent’s star player playing that inefficiently. Contrast that with Westbrook’s night, 43 points on only 24 shots. Even in a game where he ‘went off’ he actually had a pretty poor night overall so I think the Pacers can take away a positive feeling on how they handled him.

  • http://alwaysmillertime.com Josh Dhani

    Solid win for the Pacers. They are showing they can beat anybody

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