In the second quarter last night “Big Baby” Glen Davis couldn’t miss. And when he did miss it didn’t seem to affect confidence. He was hitting shots and stomping around the court with momentum. At half time he had 16 points on 7 of 13 shooting. He energized his teammates more than Dwight Howard ever did this season and patronized the Orlando crowd about 80% less.
So if you’re team is in a crucial playoff road game against a team that you are supposed to beat, but Glen Davis is working his mid-range game and altering the momentum of the game what do yo do? How did this Pacers team handle it? How did they survive? What more could they have done?
Let’s first address the common-sense way of handling getting worked by Glen Davis. I think a lot of people considered this a game and a series that the Pacers were capable of taking care of business. One of the things that could prevent them from doing such is if a role player could score a lot of buckets at once. The Pacers’ offensive execution was not perfect, but during those moments that Davis was on fire it certainly felt like if he cooled down it would be smooth sailing for Indiana. This proved to be true: in the second half Davis had 6 points on 3-of-5 shooting.
In moments like these, shouldn’t it at least be tempting to throw logic out the window and shut this guy down? Wouldn’t it be comforting to have a player on the team that says, “You know what? This has to stop right now. Let me guard him.” If he had caught fire against the Celtics, Kevin Garnett would have ended it. Against the Hawks? Josh Smith would have done the same. If Davis was really changing the momentum against the Heat, Lebron would have made Chris Bosh guard someone else so he could shut him down. Even Kobe would have guarded a power forward like Davis. Shawn Marion for the Mavericks. The list goes on.
Glen Davis had a huge impact in the second quarter, and David West wasn’t playing with the urgency to stop him. It would have been nice if Paul George stepped up and said, “Positions be damned. I’m an inch shorter than this guy. Let me make sure he cools off.” It also would have been nice if Roy Hibbert responded to everyone so quick to criticize his slowness and bumped Davis every time down court.
But the Pacers didn’t have someone to step up in the heat of the moment and shut down any possible momentum. So they did the next best thing: they weathered the storm. The “Let Me At ‘Em'” defender would have been nice. It would have shown urgency. But at the same time, you can’t argue with the results.
While the Pacers may not have that one ultra-competitive defender, they do have an excellent coach. And while they couldn’t stop Baby in the heat of the moment, the second-half adjustments did the trick. Each defender, including Tyler Hansbrough and West, played more assertive defense, and Davis was a non-factor in the second half as the Pacers pulled away.
More importantly the Pacers reacted to this by continuing to execute on offense during the second quarter. Orlando is a hot shooting team with high-energy role players. When the shots are dropping and the Orlando crowd gets loud, it is quite easy to find yourself discombobulated and down 10 points. Indiana didn’t let this happen. They took each of Big Baby’s shots, staggered a bit then hit back. George Hill did a good job of controlling the offense when he came back into the game, and the ball movement was solid all game.
To be fair, Davis was hitting a lot of 19-footers. As long as you contest a shot from that range you cannot blame the defense as much as you should credit the shooter.
At the end of the day the Pacers executed well and there is not much to nitpick after winning by such a large margin. But when a role player like Davis catches fire in the playoffs. the momentum can swing in quite a different direction. The Pacers could potentially play the Heat in the second round and if anyone outside of the Big Three were to catch fire it could prove to be quite problematic.
When this sort of thing happens there are two ways any successful playoff team should react: First, they should shut it down. This isn’t a time to stick to the defensive playbook; find the player most willing to find the hot hand and make him uncomfortable. Second, keep executing on offense. It’s quite obvious, but it doesn’t always happen when momentum shifts. The Pacers kept executing in Game Three and they won with ease.
Basketball is a game of reactions. And since it looks like the Pacers plan on sticking around in the postseason, so they will see more of Glen Davis and others who catch fire like he did last night. They must be prepared to react and adjust.