The Pacers are in the playoffs for the first time in five years, but — more importantly — this will be the first time for 8p9s covering Indiana in the postseason. We’re going to jump in with both feet. Read all about it in our multi-part Pacers vs Bulls Playoff Preview series in the hours and days to come.
The Bulls have only lost threes games since March started. One of those losses came at the hands of the Pacers on March 18. Carlos Boozer didn’t play but, as Tim has shown, these guys don’t get beaten very often so if we want to find some lessons in how they can perhaps be defeated, we have to look somewhere. So I re-watched that Pacers victory today to see what could be found and was struck by a few areas that helped them succeed.
Here are a few that the Pacers should focus on.
Beating the Bulls Down the Floor
In the first two minutes of the game there were two plays that are indicative of something Indiana must do consistently if they want to stay competitive: force transition. The Bulls have the best defense in the NBA. That’s daunting but even the stingiest squad is less effective when it doesn’t have time to set up. Indiana must push the rock even when opportunities to do so aren’t apparent, as is the case in the first first clip below.
Darren Collison closes out well to contest a Derrick Rose three. Paul George grabs the board. When he throws the outlet to DC, all five Bulls players are doing a pretty good job getting back. Five of them, in fact, are beating the Indiana players down the court. (Check the 7-second mark. It’s notable that Roy is busting his butt to race down to battle for position on the block.) Despite this not being a true fast break opportunity, Collison pushes the ball hard. Before the Bulls figure out what’s going on, Darren is dancing through their paint and forcing the best defensive team in the NBA to make a series of ad hoc, reactionary, ineffective rotations. He makes a good decision to bring the ball back out and tosses it over to Hibbert for a relatively easy bucket.
In the second clip, we have a more traditional transition opportunity: Danny Granger and Collison combine for some nice pick-and-roll defense and Danny steals a pretty weak pass by Rose. Darren again pushes hard and is flanked by a racing Paul George, who spaces the court nicely by flaring to the three-point line, and Tyler Hansbrough, who sets up shop on the opposite block. This leaves the lane wide open and all DC has to do is blow by Rose to get a shot near the rim. Unfortunately, Rose is superhuman and recovers easily enough to force wee Darren into a weak attempt. This shows why it is so hard to score on Chicago (even when they’re bad, they’re good) but with a less erratic layup try, he should have at least gotten to the line. And regardless of the outcome, the process was correct. As an offense, you want one-on-one situations at the rim vs. a scrambling defense.
The third clip speaks for itself. The defense again forces Rose into a tough jumper and then they waste no time collecting the board and heading off to the races.
It can’t just be Collison doing this, however. In the last video we see Danny Granger grab a board and push it himself. Again, it doesn’t look like a traditional fast break opportunity, but Danny dribbles up the court hard enough to get a favorable situation and get to the line.
This is one of the only ways the Indian will be able to score easy points. Easy points that they will badly need — cause it’s going to be slim pickings in the half court.
Exploiting the Bulls When They Front the Post
Roy Hibbert is very tall. Most teams don’t have defenders as tall as him. Thus, a lot of coaches will throw different looks at him and this is often effective in the sense that Hibbert seems at his best when he is comfortable.
But as they do in the clip below, the Pacers need to be able to exploit the Bulls when they somewhat-waste the stellar defensive abilities of Joakim Noah by turning him into little more than a tall tree that the post-feeder must lob the ball over. Then, it’s on Roy to catch and finish over the helpside defense. Of as is the case here, he needs to recognize that the Bulls “over-collapsed” on the interior and find the open man. This is a good decision to kick it to Tyler, who knocks down the jumper.
(In these situations, the same thing goes for Granger, who the team sends down on the block several times a game in an attempt to seal his man on the high side and get an easy hoop. We’ll talk about this in a post tomorrow.)
Not Settling for Jumpers, Danny Granger
Here, in clip one, the Pacers are inbounding from the baseline. Danny throws it in to Roy and then gets it back after cutting up the lane to the free throw line area. Granger got some separation from Luol Deng and, often times, he would take the jumper when he has even this much daylight. But he didn’t in this instance. He collected the ball and pulled it back out, eventually using what was not even a great pick-and-roll set (with Hibbert) to get by his man and earn himself a trip to the line.
In the second clip, we see something that I don’t even consider a good play. Danny passes up a really good shot to pass the ball to Tyler Hansbrough. This is one of those realities that is very specific to the NBA game and thus seems odd to many people who learned to play basketball when they were young are and/or are big fans of Gene Hackman’s instructions to pass the ball four times before you shoot in Hoosiers. The thing is, it’s really hard to get a good shot in the NBA. So if you find one, you must take it — because it’s highly unlikely that you can create a second one in under 24 seconds. In some respects, not taking a good shot can honestly be worse that taking a bad shot.
So I include this video not as representative of something that Granger should do more often but because it is like seeing Bigfoot. Danny loves to shoot. He never passes up open looks. For someone who shoots as well as he does, that’s a good thing. But here he does, and while it’s not the best play in this situation, it does show a willingness to not always think that him taking a jumpshot is the best way for this team to score. And that line of thinking is not always something we can be sure he believes.
Listen to the audio and you’ll hear that Quinn Buckner sees the same thing.
There was another instance of Danny passing up a three to swing the ball over to Paul George recently when the Pacers played in New Jersey. Brandon Rush was sitting out that game, but I asked him about it afterward in the locker room and it was memorable enough to him that he fully knew what I was talking about. He said it might be the first time he has ever seen Danny pass up an open three.
Pacers fans should want Danny to be taking open shots. But the fact that he now, at least at times, is willing to pass up the jumper in order to get to the rim or pass to a teammate who he thinks might have a better look is important. This needs to happen often against he Bulls. Fans should want Danny to be getting to the line around 8 times per game.
Using Tyler Hansbrough in the Pick and Roll
Tyler had a very good game against Chicago last time, scoring 29 points on just 19 shots. If he can have a few games like that perhaps the Pacers can win a game or two. One key will be using him as the screener and roller/popper in the pick-and-roll game.
Here are a few good examples of the Pacers doing some good stuff if such scenarios. On the final one, you can see the degree to which this play confounded the Bulls, as just the mere threat of a Tyler/Collison PnR gets Hansbrough an open shot early in the shot clock.