The Pacers put the Magic away last night, and it’s a good thing, too. A game 6 back in Orlando would not have been ideal, and Indiana will need all the rest time it can get if it’s to face the Heat in the next round (Miami looks to finish off the Knicks tonight). Anyway, whether the next opponent be Miami or New York, what are some things Frank Vogel and company can look to adjust going forward, based on the Game 5 win?
1. In-Game Adjustments. Vogel has been criticized at times for not making crisp adjustments, despite the fact that his team consistently (last night not withstanding) comes out hot after the halftime break. In any event, he was a wizard last night, finding the right rotation of guys to play “small ball” in the fourth quarter, and really put the knife into Orlando’s heart. With Darren Collison playing at a high level (more on this later) and George Hill his usual clutch, defensively-pesky self, the Pacers were able to run circles around the Magic late, starting several fast breaks off of transition opportunities, and giving Roy Hibbert some rest in the process. That could be a major advantage in the next series against a Miami team that plays good defense; the Pacers will need to push the tempo at times to force Miami into wearing down and making mistakes.
2. Collison’s (De)Evolution. While Darren Collison was technically demoted to a backup role prior to the playoffs, he’s been largely ineffective as a facilitator and “floor general” for most of his two year stint here in Indiana. He has been good at knocking down clutch shots, and can be very hot and streaky, as evidenced last night. He can also be a major pain on defense when he’s not out-sized and out-muscled by his opponent. In the next series Collison’s play, and his ability to continue embracing his role as a backup, will be crucial to the Pacers remaining competitive when the second unit is in for long stretches.
3. Bench Offense. Collison isn’t the only reserve who needs to step up going forward. Leandro Barbosa can literally score at will when he gets a slower defender backpedaling in front of him during transition opportunities. The Pacers will need plenty of that vs. Miami. Tyler Hansbrough will need more consistency than he’s shown all year too. A lingering issue for this team has been producing points when four reserves (plus Granger or George) are in for five minute stretches. The onus is on Collison, Barbosa and Hansbrough to pick up the slack, like they did (on an inconsistent basis) vs. the Magic.
4. Perimeter Defense. I sound like a broken record here, but the Pacers need more focus on defending the three, and other long jumpers. Orlando is a great shooting team, but without Howard had little space to work with, and their shooters had trouble getting free. That won’t be the case for a Miami team who has the NBA’s best front court distributor (and maybe the best-passing forward ever). Luckily Miami isn’t loaded with gunners like Orlando was, but there will be plenty of 15-20 footers. The Pacers can’t leave them open, and must challenge every opportunity, while being careful not to fall for silly pump fakes.
5. Big Roy. Roy Hibbert looked to be the focal point on offense for the Pacers during the first quarter last night, receiving several entry passes and making an effort to score on a handful of possessions. He had some nifty moves, and his short-armed right hook was nearly as unstoppable as his mid-lane drop step. But then he just stopped scoring. As the Pacers upped the tempo, Roy was forgotten. He also struggled with Magic double teams; they were quick to collapse on him, hoping to cause him issues when he put the ball too low (as he has a tendency to do). Hibbert has to use his above-average vision to get that ball rotated quickly when he’s double teamed. That will create shots for the Pacers perimeter guys, and really open up the offense for Roy as great passing from him will keep defenses honest.
It’s a great feeling to advance to the second round, but Indiana will likely be forced into a tough matchup with Miami sooner rather than later. Here’s hoping the Knicks can extend their first round bout with the Heat for at least one more game.