You can’t hope for anything better than a wire-to-wire rout in the season opener. And that is exactly what the near-capacity crowd at
Conseco Bankers Life Fieldhouse witnessed tonight as a dominating front-court effort led the Pacers to a 91-79 trouncing of the Pistons.
All of the team’s primary big men got double-doubles; Roy Hibbert scored 16 with 14 boards, Tyler Hansbrough finished with 16 and 13 off the bench, and offseason pickup David West tallied 11 and 12 in his first game as a Pacer. These guys were just relentless on the glass, and that’s exactly how you out-class your opponent so drastically on a night when you only shoot 36.8% from the floor yourselves.
Nobody personified both ends of this spectrum as much as West.
He struggled to connect from the interior in the first half, missing 6 of the 8 shots he took and blowing several good possessions with his inability to finish. But he didn’t lose focus. He didn’t concede to the fact that it just wasn’t his night. He made it his night. Or, more accurately, he made it his team’s night. Exhibit A: West ended the half with 6 offensive boards (and 9 total).
This stat alone marks a major qualitative difference from the offensive futility we have seen out of this offense in recent years. Too often, Pacer players make a mistake and adopt a “woe is me” attitude. West messed up plenty but instead refused to let a miss be the final outcome of the possession. He went and got the board. He went back up strong. (And he is STRONG.) He re-gathered and kicked it to a teammate in a better position to score. He tried his hardest to atone for his errors. In doing so, David West showed Pacers fans that he is a perfect cocktail of strength, finesse and maturity. He is the mint julep of power forwards.
This (sorry for this word) stick-to-it-iveness represents a non-acceptance of failure that this team has sorely lacked for years. We will see over time if this attitude can permeate the rest of the team, but it was certainly already present from the Pacers new power forward in the first half of the first game he ever played for the franchise.
After the bigs, the best signs of better things to come came from Paul George. Like West, he made his share of mistakes, losing the ball on the first play of the game and making several head-scratching passes, for instance. And like West, he didn’t let these errors get to him. It didn’t seem to be maturity or professionalism that guided his actions, however.
No, Paul George seemed to be spurred by a commitment to aggressiveness. Early on, this new-found mindset was apparent.
Last season, George’s default offensive setting was passivity. He was rarely involved in plays and spent most of his time standing around. When things broke down or — more often — in transition, Pacers fans saw flashes of his instincts and athleticism, but the on-court evidence that he could become a high-level scorer was sparse.
Tonight, on the contrary, George pressed. Less than four minutes in, he found himself in an unfamiliar situation: being the ball-handler in a pick-and-roll at the top of the key. He used the screen and slow-dribbled to his left. Without hesitation, when he saw his man sag, he pulled up from three. He stuck it.
About a minute later, George found himself in the mid-post with the ball. He tried to turn and face but was thwarted and instead spun baseline and took a fadeaway jumper. It wasn’t a great shot and it’s one that the efficiency-is-everything crowd often criticizes guys like Kobe for taking. But George goaded his defender into over-challenging and used his length to be un-phased by the defense. The defender was too aggressive and fouled. Again, this isn’t a great shot, but it represents the new mentality of George. Not only is he now more willing to be aggressive in situations that demand it; he is also willing to try to make something out of nothing.
In the second quarter, he didn’t hesitate on a catch-and-shoot three. By half time, Paul George had scored 10 points to the lead the team. And he did in on just two field goals attempts (hitting the two three-pointers while going a perfect 4-for-4 from the line). The tangible passivity we saw when he had that ball as a rookie seemed gone. The second half, even as the game turned into a laugher, featured George being aggressive enough to be called for a (dubious) offensive foul while attacking the rim and a high-light reel play that perfectly illustrated his potential to emerge as a two-way beast in this league.
He closed out on a jump-shooter taking a long two and used his Stretch Armstrong length to swat the ball out the air like a Scud missile. George wasn’t done though. He caught the carom and took off down court to lead a fast break. The Pacers had numbers and he could have passed it off, likely for an uncontested layup or at least an easy jumper for a teammate. But … nah. He took it right to the cup himself and laid it in.
Hibbert, Tyler, Danny Granger (at times) and even the guards all did a lot tonight that deserves more discussion. But the two main things that will help the Pacers emerge as one of the better teams in the East is David West bringing some offensive punch and Paul George becoming a true threat. Tonight, we saw both of those things.
And that, more than blowing out a team that might be among the worst in the league, is what Pacers fans should be excited about.
- In addition to all the intangibles bandied about above, there were two reasons Indy was able to win going away despite their 36.8% shooting: they recovered a ton of those missed shots (grabbing 18 offensive boards to Detroit’s 31 defensive boards), and they made their threes (hitting 7 of 15, including 6 of 10 from their starting perimeter players Granger, George and Collison).
- Danny started off shaky but got going a little bit a after a getting fouled while gathering a defensive board. Indy was in the bonus so Danny got to walk down to the other end and hit two free-throws. He hit a pull-back jumper the next trip down the court. He had his ups and downs after that, but looked positively reincarnated on one pick-and-roll. It was the second straight encouraging PnR run by Indy so I’ll start by telling the backstory. On the first play, George dribbled to the left wing off a Hibbert screen and found a rolling Roy with a nice pass at the free-throw line. Two defenders jumped in front of the big fella and he kicked out a perfect pass to Collison in the corner for a three. On this second one, Danny drove hard right towards the rim with Hibbert again being the screen. Granger entered a congested middle but rather than force a tough, contested shot, he dumped the ball to a sneakily rolling Roy, who dunked the ball without dribbling as he was fouled. The one major downside to Granger’s game (other than a few sloppy brainfarts on offense) was that he remains over-interested in deflections, steals and blocks while playing defense. He has retained that swipe-at-anything mentality that fills up the stat sheet but too often comes at the expense of getting good position and forcing his man to simply take a tough shot.
- The Pacers recorded assists on 20 of their 32 field goals. That’s sharing the ball.
- While fighting for a loose ball, Tyler Hansbrough nearly ripped Will Bynum’s arm out of its socket like a GI Joe doll. Bynum was whistled for a foul. This is exactly the guy Indy needs off the bench. Mr. Bro Hands also made a slick little running hook shot at one point and stuck a nice baseline jumper on a kick-over from a driving David West. If Hansbrough and West can both be knock-down shooters from the mid-range, the spacing of this offense has the chance to give Roy Hibbert a ton of one-on-one chances in the post.
- The state of Indiana loves them some George Hill.