The Pacers atoned for Saturday’s series-opening debacle with a decisive win vs. the Orlando Magic last night. But let’s not forget that Indiana trailed for most of the first half and start of the third quarter, and also that they lost their home court advantage, and won’t get it back without a win in Orlando. So naturally there’s plenty to improve on.
The five most important things Frank Vogel and co. should focus on for Wednesday:
1. Giving Roy Hibbert the “Fight Dog” Treatment. We all love Roy. He’s the guy who buys season tickets for the loudest fans. He’s the last Pacer who you’d ever see stick his face in the middle of a skirmish, or yap at an opposing player between whistles. He helps his teammates up off the court, but he always helps up his opponent too. He’s a gentle giant. But somebody needs to smack Roy in the face until he’s mad enough to fight back. At 7’2, 275 pounds Hibbert has five inches on his opponent Glen Davis. And while Davis outweighs Hibbert, it’s only by 15 or so pounds. But so far in this series, Davis has moved Hibbert around at will, and it has literally sapped Roy’s confidence to the point that last night, even when handling an offensive rebound mere inches from the glass, Hibbert would, at times, elect to kick it out and reset the offense. Let me make this clear: The Pacers cannot win a playoff series with Roy Hibbert averaging six points on eight shots per game. Last night they won in spite of him. And his defense and rebounding has been fine; he clearly just isn’t prepared for Davis’s strength, and that’s a serious problem, as his size/skill advantage over Davis was supposed to be the reason the Pacers walked off with this series.
2. Defending the Pick ‘n Roll/Pop. The Magic spent six quarters of this series physically matching (if not dominating at times) the Pacers, and out-maneuvering them at the point of attack with the NBA’s most oft-used and effective play, the pick ‘n roll/pop. Sadly the Magic don’t have a dominant facilitator, a highly athletic power forward, or even a great pick-setting post player who can hit a 15-footer with regularity (Ryan Anderson, who hangs around the perimeter like a stretch four, doesn’t really count). At some point in the third quarter the
coaching staff made an adjustment, and started sending George Hill the high screen to follow Jameer Nelson, and that made all the difference in the world. All of a sudden, Orlando couldn’t execute on any mismatches because there weren’t any; Nelson was too slow to speed past Hill, who was fighting through a screen, and Davis and the other Magic screen setters were never left alone on a smaller player. That must continue in order for the Pacers to close out this series in a timely fashion.
3. Just Shoot Better, Baby! Indiana is shooting 38.7% from the floor on the series, and Orlando has been even worse at 37.5%. But the Pacers hovered around 42.5% for most of the year (pretty close to average) and barely cracked that mark in one game. And its not like they’re missing highly-contested shots. The Pacers are moving the ball relatively well and getting good looks, just not knocking them down. If they could just shoot, consistently, at their season average, the Pacers could very easily have run away with both of the first two games of this series. It’s even worse when you consider how bad Indiana has been from beyond the arc. While Orlando, known for its three point shooting prowess, has underachieved, its still been exponentially better than Indiana. The Magic have shot 17-49 (34.6%) compared to 6-33 (18.2%) for Indiana. Advanced stats would probably tell you (if you cared to look them up) that the Pacers’ shooting woes have very little to do with the Magic’s collective awesome perimeter defense, and very much to do with inexplicable open misses.
4. Tighten Up the Rotation. Frank Vogel has a set rotation that he likes to go with. He pulls Paul George and either Roy Hibbert or David West out early in favor of Leandro Barbosa and Tyler Hansbrough. He then pulls George Hill and either Hibbert or West out for Lou Amundson and Darren Collison. Granger then plays into the second quarter with the reserves, and comes out for Paul George after about 3-4 minutes. Vogel then reunites his starters to close out halves and games. In almost all cases, rotational consistency like that is beneficial to everyone involved. But Vogel’s rigidity with his pre-set expectation for who should be playing, and his unwillingness to search for hot hands and ride momentum, has put the Pacers in second quarter predicaments for two straight games. I’m not asking that Vogel change his philosophy per se. But with how stale the second unit looks on offense (and we’ve seen this coming for weeks), combined with how badly Granger is shooting in this series, it’s become abundantly clear that the Pacers need 2-3 starters on the floor at all times. I suggest playing the top seven (the five starters plus Barbosa and Hansbrough) for the first 18 minutes of each game, then rotating out those who need breaks, or who are in foul trouble for the next three minutes, then closing each half with the original starters. This would inevitably require all the starters, particularly Hill, West and Granger, to play 36-40 minutes a night. But they should be ready for that sort of burn at this point, considering the depth and relative lack of serious injury concern that the team has enjoyed for most of the season. It worked to some degree last night, after Vogel recognized the need for a rotational tightening in the second half, but it was more out of desperation (Hibbert was saddled with four fouls during the third quarter run the Pacers made) than seemingly a regular and logical strategy, and I fear Vogel won’t take what he should have learned by playing his starters more minutes, and use it on Wednesday. Of course if the Pacers’ reserves can concentrate on point #3 (just hitting shots) it won’t be as necessary.
5. Find Ways to Prolong the Intensity. Glen Davis is averaging 39 minutes per game in this series (and would have played 40+ in last night’s game had the score been closer, late). Looking at Davis, no offense to him, it’s easy to see why this could be a prolonged problem for the Magic. Last night, when it was clear Davis was already running on fumes near the mid-way point of the third quarter, the Pacers amped up their energy and took advantage of his, and some of his teammates’, tired legs. But there has to be some way to infuse energy into every aspect of the game. Whether it be playing small earlier, pushing for more fast breaks after defensive rebounds or simply playing harder (easier said than done), the Pacers’ aggressiveness in the third quarter last night is something we need to see more of throughout all of Wednesday’s game in order to steal back home court advantage.