During a timeout in the middle of the third quarter last night, Frank Vogel told his team that they need to go for the kill. They need to embrace their kill instinct. Step on throats. Show no mercy.
That is exactly what they did, destroying all hopes the Magic had as 7’2″ center Roy Hibbert finally looked like the biggest player in the series on both ends of the floor. Hibbert was swatting away shots, getting deep post position and punishing Orlando’s “big men.” He scored 12 points, grabbed 5 rebounds (4 on offense) and blocked 2 shots while changing several others in the third quarter. Of which he played every minute. As did every other Indiana starter other than Paul George.
When Vogel said he wanted to go for the kill, he wasn’t playing around. He kept his best players on the floor and they showed how much better they can be than Orlando’s best playing, starting off the third quarter with a 6-0 run and going on a13-2 stretch near the end that put the Pacers up by 23. The Magic were as good as dead.
Really, this wasn’t a shock. It’s the same thing they have been doing all series long after half time. The Pacers out-scored the Magic 32-17 last night and that gives them a 80-43 edge so far in third quarters. And the trend goes back much further than the postseason. This mimics their success after the break all year, during which the third quarter was by far their best.
Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy is clearly frustrated. In his post-game press conference, he subtly threw his hands up regarding his starters, bemoaning their inability to get anything positive going both after half-time or to start the game. At the beginning of every half, he said, his starting lineup is putting the team in a hole that has been, a 4-minute end-of-game scoring drought for Indiana notwithstanding, too great to overcome. He sounded fed up enough that we might see a change to the starting lineup for Game Four.
If I was in his shoes, I would be saying the same thing. Because the Pacers starters are absolutely annihilating the Magic whenever they’re on the floor.
In 63 minutes, the Pacers starters have out-scored whoever Orlando has on the floor by 37.5 points per 100 possessions. They have scored 121.2 points per 100 on the strength of 49.0% shooting from the field and 42.1% from behind the arc. Perhaps more impressively, they have only given up 87.6 per 100. For those unfamiliar with the context of these numbers, both of those rates are way better than any NBA team posted this season. (For reference, the Spurs led the league by scoring 110.9 points per 100 while the Celtics were the best defensive team in the association by giving up just 98.2 points per 100.)
For more context, last year against the Bulls in the playoffs, the team’s starters (Darren Collison, Paul George, Dany Granger, Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert) only scored 87.8 points per 100 while giving up 105.5 points per 100.
After the game in a post-game interview with NBA TV’s sideline reporter, Granger seemed relieved about his team finally looking dominant. He repeatedly said that Indiana has now found themselves. Even on the road, they were able to weather a second-quarter flurry by Glen Davis and then go for the kill after the half. And oh how they executed the execution.