Pace, Tempo, and Aggressiveness

After Indiana’s Game One loss the the Magic, I wrote a lengthy piece about the perceived conflict between the Pacers’ post game and their transition game.  In it, I concluded that the Pacers needed to embrace the two concepts to maximize their potential, becoming an “uptempo power post team.”

And since the third quarter of Game Two, the Pacers seemingly have done just that. They have taken control of the series by continuing their dominant defensive performance, and steadily improving their offensive efficiency and commitment to pushing the ball.

So, I was rather surprised when I saw this:

The two Pacer wins were actually played with at a “slower” pace than the Game One loss. This both surprised, and somewhat surprised me. So, I sent my partner in crime, Jared Wade, asking him if he would have expected the following statements to be true.

  • Games Two & Three were played at a slower pace than Game One. Well, they had fewer possessions.
  • The Pacers Offensive Efficiency by Quarter over the 12 quarters actually has a moderate inverse correlation to the pace. That is, the most efficient Pacer offensive quarters tend to come in slower quarters.
  • The third quarter of Game Two, the Pacers 2nd best offensive quarter, was played at a Pace of 81 possessions, the slowest in the series.
  • The best offensive quarter of the series – 3rd of Game Three – was played at only 87 pace, 8th overall.
  • The “slowest” game of the series (Game Two) had the most fast break points (22).

Jared agreed that this was a strange collection factoids, particularly given the amount of focus given the need for the Pacers to run.

I can’t speak for the broad audience, but these numbers ran counter to my eyes were telling me…or at least what I thought my eyes were telling me. However, that generally means my eyes are lying to me. In this case, there certainly has to be some amount of confirmation bias in my viewing habits.

However, there are some indicators that belie the lower pace numbers. The most relevant of these are the fast break points. In Game One, the Pacers managed only five points in the break, a number that was matched by Orlando. Over the last two games, the Pacers have scored 22 and 18, respectively, while allowing Orlando only a single bucket over the eight quarters. For reference, the Pacers averaged about 13 fast break points per game this season, and the league-leading Denver Nuggets averaged 19.8 fbpg.

It’s hard to claim the Pacers didn’t run successfully.

But, still, I do think my views and expectations have been exposed as…well…oversimplified. One of the pitfalls of the hyper-analysis that today’s information environment creates is tunnel vision. It’s so easy to get out the six-foot drill and dig into the data, that you (I) begin to lose sight of the basic truth that everything on the court is connected.

And that’s exactly what I did. By too narrowly look at the speed or pace of the game, I lost sight of the bigger picture. There’s an underlying factor – a commonality – between being an uptempo team and being a power post team. Both have – require – an attack mentality.

Perhaps the change in the series is best summed up by David West. “I thought from a team perspective, we were disappointed in how we closed down that game. We just stopped being aggressive,” West explained after Monday night’s victory. “Throughout the day yesterday and this morning, we just talked about upping our level of aggressiveness. Being very active. Playing with a little bit more of an edge than we played with in Game One.”

And that’s what Indiana has done over the last six quarters. They’ve become the aggressor, and it’s simply overwhelming the Magic. While the statistically-calculated pace has declined, the temperature has climbed.

Besides the 40-2 obliteration in fast break points, there are plenty of other statistical categories indicative of the Pacers attacking. Jared highlighted Indiana’s advantage in the paint the other day, and in that piece you can see that a 36-26 advantage in the loss has ballooned to 92-50 in the two wins. While the 35-30 advantage in second chance points isn’t as good as the 21-13 posted in the loss, it becomes a huge advantage in second halves – 21-4 for the Blue-and-Gold.

The most impressive swing has come in points off turnovers. Orlando outscored Indiana 14-13 in Game One. The Pacers have turned that into a 46-23 advantage over the last two games.

So, when I watch Game Four today, I’m going to look for what West described as the “aggressive level of each individual player.” It sounds trite, but it’s really crucial. Besides these statistical categories – fast break, second chance, off turnover, points in the paint – it can be readily seen in the players’ movements. Are they pushing the ball up the floor? When in the shot clock are the shots coming? What is the movement away from the ball like? How hard does the big attack the pick-and-roll defensively, and how well does he recover?

The Pacers have regained home court advantage, but they haven’t won anything yet. They need to continue to keep up the pressure. As Leandro Barbosa said the other night, “Playoffs are about seven games. When we leave this locker room, we forget about this game, and get better for the next.”

If they continue to “get better for the next” game, then they will continue to play in the 2012 post season.

Statistical support for this post provided by NBA.com.

 

Topics: David West, Orlando Magic, Pace, Tempo

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