Through two games, the Pacers starting lineup has murdered the Magic. According to NBA.com, they have posted a positive differential of 30.5 points per 100 possessions during their 41 minutes playing as a unit. By contrast, the Magic starters, who have played 42 minutes together, have been out-played by 24.3 points per 100.
Great news, right?
When the starters head to the bench, however, things have fallen apart.
We saw this in both Games One and Two in the first quarter. Indiana jumped out to a big lead in both. In Game One, they led 15-5. In Game Two, it was 18-7. But in both, those leads vanished as Leandro Barbosa, Tyler Hansbrough, Lou Amundson and Darren Collison filtered into the game. Orlando closed the first quarter of the Game One on a 12-3 run and closed the opening quarter of Game Two on a 9-2 run.
Frank Vogel seemed to realize this might happen in the second game, keeping four of his five starters out on the court for nearly the first nine minutes. Paul George checked out for Barbosa about a minute before that, but David West, who played 42 minutes, stayed on the court about two minutes longer than he typically does. Vogel’s strategy did delay the fall-off, but that is all it did.
And this isn’t just a first-quarter issue.
Vogel has gone to a nine-man rotation in the playoffs, so there has always been at least one starter on the floor throughout both games in Indiana. But there have been plenty of lineups that do feature just one. (Danny Granger, for instance, has been the lone starter to play the whole first quarter in both games. Although this was very common in the regular season as well.) And those lineups are getting out-played.
The Collison, Barbosa, George, Hansbrough and Amundson lineup, in its 8 minutes played together through two games, is getting out-scored at a rate of 42.7 point per 100 possessions. Sample size and all, but that is a ton. When you note that the lineup is shooting 35.7% and hasn’t made a single three-pointer, the differential basically explains itself. This lineup can’t put any points on the board.
Swap Granger for George and the reserves have been even worse. Collison, Barbosa, Granger, Hansbrough and Amundson have been outscored by 102.4 points per 100 in their 6 minutes together. Again, sample size has to be factored in here. One lucky bounce can obviously skew the numbers greatly in just 6 minutes. But this unit has shot 1-for-7 outside of the paint and 1-for-5 at the rim. That actually isn’t the worse distribution location-wise (although the 5 mid-range attempts aren’t ideal). It is, however, pathetic. How do you miss 4 of 5 shots in the restricted area?
So far in the playoffs, these are the 2nd and 5th most common lineups the Pacers have run out there. Most teams struggle when their 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th men are on the court, so the Pacers shouldn’t expect anything amazing. They do need these bench units to at least hold the score even though. If they can’t start doing so soon, the team is going to have real problems. The starters cannot be expected to build a big lead, watch it disappear while sitting on the bench and then have to reconstruct it time and time again. Asking them to do so isn’t sustainable and is a big reason Indiana will be fighting to regain home-court advantage tonight. The starters came out of halftime in Game Two and blew the doors off their Orlando counterparts, sure. But we saw at the end of Game One that sometimes that will not work.
The bench needs to do more for this team to win in Orlando. Poor offense can be excused somewhat, but what the reserves simply cannot allow is the Magic reserves to gain confidence and quickly light up the scoreboard with triples. For a team like the Magic, shooting accuracy can be contagious and they stick long-range bombs in bunches. In Game Three, playing in front of an Orlando crowd, the second unit simply cannot let the the building turn into mayhem as fans cheer JJ Redick and Quentin Richardson threes.
All season long this team has preached “depth as a weapon.” With performance like this it is.
That’s going off in their own hands.
“We need our second unit,” Coach Frank Vogel said. “We can’t play our starters the full game. It has come and gone throughout the year. Sometimes our starters are the guys that are struggling and the second unit picks them up. We’ll keep the normal rotation and if a certain unit isn’t getting it done, then we’ll adjust.”
In the second half of Game 2, Vogel emulsified the second unit into the action, adding them into the action one at a time. First, Hansbrough, then Barbosa and finally Collison which allows one player to get in the flow of the game before adding another. That’s in contrast to bringing in four fresh players within a possession or two and hoping they are ready to go.
The importance of Game 3 suggests Vogel will continue with the latter approach, leaning more on his starting unit which, despite plenty of room for improvement, has played well overall against Orlando.
(Screen shots via NBA.com. Head over there to play around with stats for the different lineups.)