Next Day Thoughts: On Indiana Beating Toronto

Here are ten random thoughts related to Indiana’s 90-85 win last night over Toronto.

  • Paul George started off the game making a crossover, pull-back jumper in the mid-range; drilling a shot-fake, dribble right, step-back three; and knocking down a contested catch-and-shot three from the right wing on a swing pass to the weakside. At some point during all this, Matt Moore of CBS Sports and Hardwood Paroxysm offered up the following assessment: “I feel like Paul George is Mega-Man. Whatever player he beats, he absorbs their abilities. He’s got a crossover and step-back now.”
  • In rotations news, Dahntay Jones and Tyler Hansbrough were the first two players off the bench. Vogel presumably left George in because of his hot shooting, Hill did come in just a few possessions later anyway. More notably, Darren Collison played the whole first and fourth quarters, logging nearly 38 minutes at the point overall. George racked up nearly 40 minutes himself, leaving only 17 for Hill at both guard spots. Hill has struggled and Collison was mostly excellent last night so it could have been the product of game situations, but it certainly didn’t look like Pacers fans should expect any of the rotation volatility
  • Hibbert was successful down low with some hook shots in the first half. He made one nice sweeping hook early and had another after an offensive board with about 5 mins left in the second quarter. Overall, Roy Hibbert was the second best Pacer in the first half but he wasn’t involved enough. As always, this is in large part to do with him playing with wings who struggle to get him the ball in a good position. But he needs to find a way to not disappear, particularly when the teams is struggling that badly to score. He picked it up after the half, creating space down low for a nice alley-oop try. Try being the key word, however, as he missed the dunk. Such anomalies happen, of course, so no need to fret. Important part was that he was there at the rim, open. He also had a nice pick and pop with Collison early in the third and an excellent post move at the 9-minute mark. It was a strong, purposeful finish. Like his earlier hook shots.
  • The Collison/Tyler pick-and-pop got the offense back from the abyss late in the first half after Tyler hit long twos on back to back possessions. These were Hansbrough’s only two buckets unfortunately.
  • Aside from those aforementioned two Roy hook shots, for most of the first half, the whole offense was step-back jumpers. Paul George made two so it seemed OK. Then Dahntay Jones took one. And Granger missed another. The result was 38 first-half points. Shooting 15-for-42 (35.7%) in a half is one thing, particularly in the second game of a rushed season. Getting only 8 FTs (and only making 5 of those) while shooting that poorly — against a team with such a defensive void on the interior — is just not trying. There was no penetration, no cutters and no transition after Raptor misses. The offense in the first half could best be described as statuesque. Make no mistake, there was only one reason the Pacers were up by four at the half: they were playing Toronto.
  • Danny twice lost the ball on the way to the hoop. I mean, these were ugly, juvenile, JV turnovers. But he seemed unperturbed. Still kept pushing the action, finishing at the rim once early on a very strong one-on-one move and in the third quarter in a mini-transition after Collison steal.
  • DC came up with both a nice deflection and a nice steal in transition. Last season, his defensive lapses were more half-court/fighting-through-screens based, but the effort and awareness was encouraging.
  • Twice in the third we saw just how savvy West can be on the low block. It’s hard to even call what he did post moves. They’re more just read-and-react deception plays. He just moves the ball around a little and waits for the defender to swipe or change his shoulder angle slightly. Then he attacks the soft spot and counters if there is a chance he will be shut off. It’s all predicated on nearly imperceptible balance shifting and a process of feeling out the defender. Then he just puts up a non-text-book shot either right before or right after you think he is going to pull the trigger. It’s very tough to defend and he is never out of control. He never has to commit to a sweeping spin or a power-drop-step or a dash across the lane. It’s low risk and there’s always a counter or an out. He defines what will happen and the defender is powerless, almost antsy.
  • George Hill was not productive last night. He wasn’t productive in game one either. This, undoubtedly, is starting to worry Pacers fans, who have gotten to watch would-be rookie Indiana back-up forward Kawhi Leonard average almost 15 rebounds per 36 minutes so far in two games for San Antonio.

To me, Hill provided the most encouraging moment of the game, however. It came on the all-important play in the fourth that put the Pacers up 12. In fact, it was the first Indiana possession of the fourth. The team hadn’t been able to get any action to work on the play. By the looks of things, they may not have even been trying — instead just relying on their trusty ol’ “pass the ball around the perimeter harmlessly until the shot clock starts to run down” system. At this point, for those players who have been on the Pacers for a few years, that is basically the default.

After a swing pass to Dahntay on the left wing yielded nary a threat of exploiting the defense, Jones gave the ball right back to Hill with five seconds remaining on the shot clock. Here’s where the team usually panics. Hill didn’t.

Instead, he made a purposeful dribble right, hesitated a little and took another hard dribble towards the paint. His man stuck with him but he forced one of Toronto’s wing defenders to hedge towards what was a clear threat of penetration. With the shot clock nearing two, Hill calmly picked up his dribble and threw a strike to Collison’s shooting pocket in the corner. Darren, all alone since Hill drew his defender, squared up, took his time and buried the three.

This was the type of routine play that Hill has participated in, and watched his teammates execute, for years in San Antonio. But it is something that looks almost like an offensive epiphany to anyone who has been observing the Pacers offense in recent years. (Much like the final FG of the game was for Mike Wells.) “Wait? You mean they can still use the tail end of the shot clock to generate a good look? They don’t have to wildly flail around and panic and play hot potato or heave some off-balanced prayer at the rim any time the play breaks down and the shot clock gets below 5?”

In the preseason, I wrote about this phenomenon that has taken hold in the Pacers offense, calling it a “learned helplessness.” I speculated that — more than Indy adding their individual talents they can use to add points — what the Pacers most needed from Hill and West was a sense of poise and an ability to remain committed to getting good shot under duress. At no point has Hill looked more capable of doing exactly this than he did when he grabbed control of this possession and made the level-headed decision that led to a three.

Make no mistake: Hill needs to play better. But he may already be adding something more vital to this team’s long-term success than points.

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