(video via Fox 59)
Game 1 showed that the Pacers can hang with the best team in the East when they hit their shots. Obviously, 55.6% shooting from behind the arc isn’t sustainable, and because of this, a lot of people expect tonight’s Game 2 in Chicago to be a lot more one-sided in the Bulls favor.
But you know what else isn’t sustainable? A 50% offensive rebounding rate for the Bulls. For the uninitiated, that 50% number means that Chicago gained a second chance to score after half of its missed shots. Their offensive players got half of the possible rebounds available at that end of the floor.
Make no mistake, the Bulls are an excellent offensive rebounding team (4th best in the NBA), but the league average is closer to grabbing one out of every four shots (26.4% precisely). And even the Chicago only managed to retrieve 29.4% of their own misses this season. So that 50% total was an even sillier number than the Pacers hot shooting from deep was.
Scanning the stat sheet, these are the two biggest anomalies. It’s unlikely that either one happens again in Game 2. So the question becomes which team will be set back further? Indy by their lack of three-pointers or Chicago by their fewer second-chance points?
It is worth noting, however, that the Pacers are likely a lot more worried about how to keep the Bulls off the glass than the Bulls are about the Pacers continuing to never miss from three. They have even said as much. The the Pacers, ensuring the same thing doesn’t play out again will take, in addition to more targeted effort, a unified strategic adjustment. This must start with keeping Derrick Rose out of the paint so that Indy’s bigs don’t have to rotate over to help on nearly every possession, thereby leaving Chicago’s bigs free to go get it off the rim. It’s one thing to let a guy like Noah have a field day on the offensive glass; it’s another altogether to let Luol Deng get 5 and the allegedly-under-75-years-0ld Kurt Thomas swallow up 3 off the bench.
By contrast, the Bulls protecting the perimeter better is something that will likely just happen naturally. It’s something the Bulls will also try to encourage by closing out a little better and rotating more crisply, but the Pacers accuracy from 16 feet out and further is not something that usually happens twice in a row against the best defense in the league.
The other major thing that jumps off the stat-sheet is Chicago’s 32-to-17 free-throw advantage. This, however, doesn’t strike me as strange.
In the regular season, as hard as it might be to believe right now, the Pacers were actually better at getting to the line than the Bulls. But in the Playoffs, with more contact, more effort and more plays during which the refs are forced to make a decision under great pressure — a phenomenon that often seems to be swayed by aggressiveness — it would be hard to expect a team of jump-shooters and Tyler Hansbrough to get more tries from the charity stripe than a team with guys like Derrick Rose and Carols Boozer who force the action. That said, the Pacers can and should shoot more than 17 freebies this time out; I’m just not sure they will hold the Bulls below 30 — particularly if Paul George and his new-found penchant for foul trouble has anything to say about it. (In his defense, he only got 2 in Game 1 while guarding Rose a lot of the time.)
Speaking of that Rose character … yeah … he is an ungodly talent and probably playing better right now than any other basketball player on planet Earth. I really don’t think the Pacers need to worry about trying to stop him from scoring 35 points (or s0) again this game. In the first game they almost stole, he went off. And Danny Granger has called stopping Rose the team’s “main priority.”
But Boozer and the offensive role players did not. So they should try to replicate this strategy again, only this time don’t, ya know, leave Kyle Korver alone behind the three-point line or let Joakim Noah beat you down the floor for an uncontested dunk on key fourth-quarter possessions.
Also, if they can keep Rose from getting all the way to the rim (easier said than done, I know) and force him into some mid-range pull-ups, that should both help lower his easy points at the line and prevent freed-up bigs from snatching the ball of the iron on the few instances he does actually miss. Better still, get him to take 9 threes again. He won’t miss them all like he did in the first game, but he isn’t likely to turn into Peja Stojakovic either.
On the other end, the same thing must be prioritized: dominate the paint.
We hear all about “smashmouth” basketball from coach Vogel. And the Pacers did a good job of keeping Roy Hibbert involved in the offense early in round one of this seires. Even when they weren’t tossing it down to him on the block, he was getting putbacks and generally active in battling with Noah. As the game went on, however, the offense went through the post less frequently and Roy’s impact vanished.
This was in part due to Darren Collison getting to the hoop with penetration and, later, Tyler Hansbrough making every shot he took from mid-range, something that de-emphasized the need to run things through the paint. By the time Danny was shooting the lights out in the third quarter, the offense started to seem like it was creating itself. They didn’t really have to work because good shot attempts were just materializing everywhere and the shots from 16-23 feet were flowing like wine. There was no need to go inside-out to develop scoring opportunities because they were doing just fine getting them from the perimeter or in transition.
Of course, everything is a good shot when you’re making them. But by the time the Bulls dug in late and the Pacers were having a tougher time finding open looks in the seams of the defense, they had little to go on. The pick-and-roll with Tyler had been effective, but even the best play in basketball needs a counter-move to go along with it. And the lack of and established post-game was glaring. It looked like an NFL offense that had looked unstoppable throughout the game while throwing the ball all over the field but now had nowhere to turn when it needed just one more first down to kill the clock. The Pacers had no running game to turn to and the Bulls did the equivalent of forcing a punt and then driving 50 yards on three plays to kick the winning field goal.
Moving past the stats and strategy aspects, the big question on from the softer side of things perspective is whether or not the Pacers will be able to recover from the disappointment of giving away Game 1. They threw everything they had at Chicago, making few errors in the first 44 minutes and barely turning the ball over. Not only were the leading, nearly pulling out a wire-to-wire win, but they were close to dominating the entire contest.
Still … they are now down 0-1.
How does a young team with little proven leadership bounce back?
We’ll see in a few hours.
Game 1 Stats