Winning Formula: Eastern Conference Playoffs, Round 1

The Pacers woke up and were finally the dominant team we saw in April. Perhaps the game 1 loss was a wakeup slap for Indiana, because that’s what it looked like last night, as the Pacers ran roughshod over the overmatched Magic. For three games straight, whether it be due to strong Pacers defense, Magic offensive inadequacy or both, Orlando has failed to crack 81 points (and failed to reach 80 in two of those games).

The five most important things the Pacers should focus on improving/continuing for Saturday’s game 4:

May 2, 2012; Orlando, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) drives around Orlando Magic power forward Glen Davis (11) during the first quarter of game three in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE

1. Snapping the Bench out of Their Funk. My biggest complaint was the bench, remaining an insignificant drag on the offense at best and an outright liability at worst. They did play some solid first half defense, and Darren Collison, of all people, provided a bit of a first half spark that allowed starter George Hill to get some much-needed rest. But aside from protecting the ball better than the starters in the first half, the reserves were basically unremarkable. That won’t fly the further along the Pacers get in the playoffs.

2. Halftime Adjustments.Frank Vogel and his staff have done an excellent job making improvements and adjustments at the half over the last two games of this series, and really that’s always been one of Vogel’s strengths. After turning the ball over 11 times in the first half (which is basically why the Pacers were up 6 at halftime instead of 16) Indiana coughed it up just once over the final 24 minutes. Vogel clearly adjusted the rotation for the second half too, taking advantage of mismatches and keeping in his starters for longer stretches (which we all hoped he’d do) until the game was safely out of reach for Orlando. It was an exercise in futility for Stan Van Gundy, who may have equaled Vogel’s coaching strategy, but if he did, no one could tell; the Pacers executed masterfully in the second half and never looked back after one of their now-typical third quarter runs.

3. Limit Glen Davis (if necessary). Glen Davis was huge last night, in more ways than one (sorry…couldn’t resist). When Davis wasn’t pirouetting through the lane for uncomfortably graceful-looking layups, he was high steppin’ his jiggly frame down the court, celebrating unlikely first half fadeaways. The effort was, of course, for naught. Indiana’s plan may have been to give Davis everything he wanted, but it didn’t result in anything close a win, or a rebounding advantage for the Magic. In fact, it was quite the opposite. When the dust settled Davis scored 22 points on 10-18 shooting, but the Pacers blew out the Magic on the scoreboard and on the glass. If Davis gets 20+ a game, that would usually indicate a problem (and the Pacers ought to focus on locking him down a little better) but if it equals Pacers’ blowouts, we’re all fine with it.

4. Keep Limiting Ryan Anderson. Anderson, theoretically the Magic’s best offensive option even with Dwight Howard, has been completely neutralized this series. His shot isn’t falling, he’s no match for the Pacers’ starting bigs, and he looks defeated and deflated.

Anderson’s regular season numbers: 16.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 44% FG, 39% 3PT, 32 mpg

Anderson’s playoff numbers: 7.7 ppg, 5.o rpg, 32% FG, 33% 3PT, 32 mpg

The good news is that Anderson’s +/- is only a -9, which is relatively good, considering the Magic are currently -34 on the series. The Pacers continuing to abuse Anderson in the post and limit him from beyond the arc is crucial to finishing off the Magic.

5. Keep Feeding Big Roy. Hibbert’s performance last night was a complete turnaround from games 1-2. While Hibbert maintained his rebounding and shot blocking (he’s averaging 12rpg and just under 5 bpg on the series) he’s been underwhelming and generally timid on the offensive end…until last night. Hibbert did exactly what we’ve all been waiting for. He demoralized Anderson, stood toe to toe with Davis and made quick, decisive moves in the post. He put back offensive rebounds instead of kicking them back to three point shooters. His body  language was upbeat. His teammates were behind him. With that kind of performance (and I’ve said this before) the Pacers can beat any one on any given night.

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