Deron Williams Exposes Pacers' Weaknesses, Torches Indiana in the 4th Quarter

There are a number of things you can place blame for the Pacers losing to the 16-35 Nets. Indiana is in the midst of a very difficult stretch of schedule, and coming off of a 15-point win over the Miami Heat just three days ago, they clearly under-estimated the Nets. Danny Granger had a frustrating and unproductive night, scoring only 5 points and committing 3 turnovers before fouling out. They were also out-rebounded and turned the ball over more than the Nets.

But coming into the game, one would think the only chance the Nets would have of winning, let alone winning by 16 points, would be if Deron Williams had a monster game. By the time he was taken out with just under 3 minutes left in the game, D-Will had 30 points and 9 assists while shooting 11-for-19 from the floor. He did the most damage as the Nets pulled away in the fourth quarter, during which he dropped 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting.

Being realistic, the Pacers arguably had five of the seven most talented players in this game (with Gerald Wallace joining Deron as the Nets other representative). But the Nets had the most talented player. And Deron is really the only guy who played that can utterly take a game over. He is that kind of superstar. He is that good.

Despite lackluster performances by a few Pacers, some blame for the loss should be put on Frank Vogel’s lack of defensive attention on Williams. In fairness, Vogel did give the long-armed George Hill an extended assignment on Williams in the fourth and eventually put Paul George on him late, but the coach admitted after the game that it was little  help. “[Deron Williams] is one of the best players in the world,” said Vogel to reporters. “We tried a bigger defender on him, but it didn’t matter. He was not going to be denied. When he’s going like that, he’s tough to stop.”

I understand that if it were easy to guard Williams then he wouldn’t average 22 points per game, but there are opportunities for double teams. In a game like this, you want to contain Williams as much as possible and live with whatever open shots it leaves his teammates. This is especially true on a night when the Nets are playing without Anthony Morrow and Brook Lopez.

It can be difficult to double team a point guard, but it is not impossible. When Williams makes his initial pass, ball denial becomes crucial. If he has the ball anywhere near the sideline, a trap could be implemented and only a difficult pass could beat the defense. The 76ers did this continually throughout the fourth quarter against the Bulls in early March, for example, and forced Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng to make plays with the ball.

With the game tied going into the fourth, it was Rose and another better-late-than-never act from Luol Deng that opened up a 13-point lead for the Bulls, and it seemed like all was well. Despite just terrible stretches of offense for good chunks of the game, it looked like the Bulls would run away from the Sixers and get the vengeance they wanted so bad.

But then Doug Collins decided that enough was enough and began to throw hard traps at Rose on essentially every single possession down the stretch. Collins had the long and athletic Andre Iguodala man up Rose, and directed one of his rangy bigs to double Rose and force the ball out of his hands. The ploy worked wonders as Rose was not able to get free and the other Bulls were not able to convert open looks.

The Sixers – on the back of reserve big man Thaddeus Young – quickly closed the gap and got the lead down to two on several occasions.

The Bulls ended up winning, in part because those guys made just enough plays but also because Rose is so good that he beat a double team late and made a running, off-balance 6-footer from the baseline in the waning seconds. It was just a tremendous shot that no defense could ever stop. The lesson in that game: Sometimes, you can only contain great players for so long, but limited success is still success and in-game adjustments gave the Sixers their best chance of winning.

As noted, Williams is a similar type of superstar who can put his team on his back. This means that he will often pick up his play in the fourth quarter. The Pacers do not have that type of player and rely on spreading around the scoring and consistency to get them by. When they play teams (even bad teams) with superstar-caliber players, offensive execution in the first three quarters becomes crucial so that when a player like Deron reaches another level, the Pacers can weather the storm by simply rebounding well and getting to the foul line.

The Pacers offensive struggles can more or less be considered a fluke (despite settling for jumpers and refusing to feed Hibbert after he missed a couple shots). However, Williams ability to slice up the defense is the greater problem.

It is true that the Pacers will not see Deron Williams in the playoffs, but they may very well see Derrick Rose. And if D-Will can drop 30 and 9 in front of a half-empty crowd at the Prudential Center on a Wednesday night in Newark during a meaningless game then you can only imagine what D-Rose will have in store for a playoff series. These caliber of players are great, but that does not mean that they cannot be game-planned for. If you come into a game just assuming they will “get theirs” because of the name on their jersey, then you will be on the wrong end of the scoreboard, especially if you don’t have a superstar to counteract them.

In NBA basketball, the better team usually wins. As we saw after Doug Collins’ in-game adjustment, even a successful strategic shift may not be enough to overcome a disparity in talent. But there is always something that can be tried when the current plan — or the players’ inability to try hard enough to execute that plan — isn’t working. The other option is to continue doing the same thing and hoping for different results. It was Albert Einstein who said that doing so is the very definition of insanity.

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Tags: Terrible Defense

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