The Pacers' Defensive Collapse in Game 4 Nearly Cost Them the Win

The Pacers certainly made Game Four interesting. They did win, however, so let’s start with the good: going back to the regular season, they won their 7th straight road game and now head home with a 3-1 series lead on the Magic. It would take a collapse over the next three games that even Indiana seems incapable of to not advance to the next round. And if we look just at Game Four, the team showed an ability to step up on key possessions. They made plays when they needed to make plays.

Now, the bad: everything else that happened in the fourth quarter.

With just 8:14 remaining in regulation, the Pacers led 82-63. Then Indiana, particularly its interior defense, decided to take the rest of the quarter off, allowing the Magic to end the game on a 26-7 run that extended the contest into overtime. This wasn’t exactly the Grizzlies letting the Clippers come back from down 21 points with 12 minutes to play — it was, mathematically, worse. Moreover, the Magic don’t employ Chris Paul or Blake Griffin.

How in the world could this happen?

With a total defensive breakdown. And perhaps a questionable coaching decision.

The run began with two Jameer Nelson/Glen Davis pick-and-rolls that were defended equally poorly. On the first, David West (weakly) moved over to stall Nelson’s ball penetration and make no real attempt to recover as Jameer made an easy bounce pass to a rolling Davis. No other Pacer reacted either and Baby got the easy dunk. On the second, Nelson found no resistance and drove all the way to the hoop for an uncontested layup.

They switched it up after that, instead letting JJ Redick handle the ball in an end-line out of bounds play. Davis set the screen, Leandro Barbosa and Roy Hiibbert acted entirely indifferent to JJ’s drive and the former Dukie finished at the rim. Orlando wisely went with this two-man game again soon and while Hibbert played the action better, Leandro was again caught in no man’s land and nearly stumbled as he fruitlessly flailed at Big Baby as he walked his way to an easy dunk.

Indiana’s once-19-point lead was down to 11 with just over 6 minutes to play.

This was when coach Frank Vogel went small. Out went Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough, in came Paul George and David West. West had already played the first 17 minutes of the first half and had only been resting for 1 minute and 10 seconds before checking back in. He was now the center, playing behind George Hill, Barbosa, George and Danny Granger.

The outcome of the Magic pick-and-roll was no different. The next play was more of the same.

Paul George found himself picking up Redick this time as Davis came up to set a ball-screen. West did a very good job cutting of JJ’s ability to advance the ball and George recovered well to crowd Redick. But Davis drifted towards to hoop and nobody rotated. Redick freed himself enough to throw a really nice pass. Davis caught the ball near the block. Hill finally realized what was going on and came over to help, but he was so late that it was pointless. Baby laid the ball in past the munchkin and a (late) recovering West.

The lead was 9.

The next Magic bucket was the most embarrassing of all. Stan Van Gundy has been drawing up excellent out of bounds plays all series. This was one of them. But it really only worked because it was a quick-hitter to be executed against a defense that forgot the basic fundamentals of guarding a player you learn in second grade. Fortunately for Van Gundy, Paul George complied.

The play was a loose, four-man stack from the left block going up the side of the lane all the way out above the arc. Jason Richardson was the furthest from the hoop. He started the play by running towards the baseline as Nelson popped up to the top of the arc. As George lazily trailed, J-Rich stuck up his arm like Randy Moss on a fly route. Redick threw him the ball and he laid it in. Paul George either forgot their was a basketball game going on or never learned that you should stay between your man and the basket — especially when there is nobody behind you in the paint.

Or perhaps the problem is that J-Rich is invisible. He scored another uncontested layup on the next play as no Pacers players picked him up in transition. Barbosa, somewhat confused by being surrounded by 9 other players running alongside him down a basketball court, made a half-hearted attempt. But he had his head turned to the ball as he tried to find Richardson, who ran passed him to catch a pass in the paint and lay the ball in.

Granger pumped his fist in disgust, yelling something that you probably wouldn’t want heard by that second grader to whom you were teaching the fundamentals of basketball.

The lead was 5 with 5 minutes left.

Vogel went back to the starters after small ball had allowed Orlando to cut another 6 points off the lead. It is hard to fault Vogel too much for trying to match the Magic personnel-wise. Really, the players on the court just weren’t playing any defense and it was mainly due to a lack of energy. They simply were getting beat to spots by a home team that had no interest in quitting in front of an increasingly raucous Amway Center crowd. Regardless, Vogel’s attempt to quell the floodwaters only made things worse. The Pacers were now fighting for their lives against an uber-confident Magic team, deafening fans and — most of all — the clock.

On the first defensive sequence with the starters back in, they played much better. Still, the Magic scored with excellent execution. Nelson entered the ball to Davis in the high post and he ran two screen/rolls with Redick. The first was cut off. The second featured a “got em” moment as JJ came off a great pick towards the baseline and Baby ducked down towards to the block. The weakside help was again unhelpful. West and Granger were both, perhaps rightfully so, more concerned with Hedo Turkoglu and Richardson, respectively, who were spacing the floor well by spotting up behind the arc. Danny did make it over in time to challenge Davis’ layup, but he was too large and too dialed in for it to deter him from making the layup.

Pacers next blunder was not getting back in defense quickly enough to challenge a Turkoglu tip in. Nelson had made a nice steal and he and Redick were off to the races for a text-book two-on-one fastbreak. Only Redick missed the layup. And it seems the fleet-footed Hedo was the one most interested in being there for any potential miss. He tipped the ball back in as soon as it rolled off the rim. He beat both George and West down the court.

The lead was 3 with 3 and a half minutes to go.

On the strength of a huge Hill three-pointer and a crafty Granger layup — and the help of Redick and J-Rich missing two wide-open threes — the Pacers were able to extend their edge to 8.

Don’t worry though: the Pacers would again help push this game towards overtime with more terrible defense on an in-bounds play. Van Gundy drew up, I believe, the exact same play he ran to spring Richardson for a three late in Game One. Worse still, it was a sideline out-of-bounds play that some Magic reporters told me after the game that Orlando runs almost every game. Basically, the guards converge in the paint and one runs up the paint through a double screen to spot up at the top of the key. This one was perfectly executed against a Pacers team that has already seen it in this series and has undoubtedly seen it many times on film.

The lead was back down to 5.

They would be fooled again by an out-of-bounds play less than a minute later. George got lost in the stack trying to cover Redick and Hibbert was forced to run to him to prevent a layup. JJ retreated and nobody picked up Hibbert’s man. Big Baby dove to the hoop, caught a pass and got fouled. He made both free-throws.

The lead was 3.

Then came the are-you-kidding-me moment. You’re never going to believe this, but the Pacers gave up points on an out-of-bounds play. The Magic again took the ball out under their own hoop. J-Rich inbounded this time, which must have initially seemed like a relief to those who had been unable to keep him from scoring on out-of-bounds plays. Another advantage for Indiana was how simple this play was: Stan Van Gundy simply had Jameer vacate the strong side wing and ran Redick off a high double screen into that now-empty area. Paul George got hung up by the second pick (a moving one by Big Baby) and JJ caught the ball in space. To his credit, George did nimbly recover as Redick tried to get behind the arc to shoot the three-pointer. But he was badly fooled by a shot fake. With George now nearly in the stands, JJ had all day to take one dribble, set himself and bury the trey.

The lead was 0.

The Pacers offense looked equally futile as their final attempt at winning the game in regulation was a shot-clock violation. And it was probably only because Nelson missed while strangely trying to fadeaway for a shot after a nice individual move on Orlando’s final play that Indiana was finally able to escape with a victory in overtime.

Let’s give the Pacers credit for playing well — for the most part and especially at the start — in the extra five minutes. And George Hill hit a few huge shots to make sure that the Magic’s 26-7 run that forced overtime wasn’t a 26-2 run that won the game.

But let’s never forget that the late-game defense — especially dealing with simple pick-and-rolls and out-of-bounds plays — was a disaster.

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