Stopping Deer In Their Tracks: Another Second-Half Turnaround

If all fans cared about was the first half of an NBA game, they may get the wrong impression of the 44-13 Indiana Pacers.

Whether it’s hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time in their NBA history, or being sent home by an MVP frontrunner, Indiana should reminisce on the 2013-14 season as one that exemplified a fierce tendency: Relentless second halves.

The central theme of dominating out of halftime was in full effect in Tuesday’s 20-point embarrassment of the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that lacked any defensive discipline in the third quarter.  Indiana forced coach Mike D’Antoni’s last-place bunch into seven turnovers and also witnessed 12 of Paul George’s 20 points in the third as they mounted a 34-16 scoring discrepancy for the quarter. Bankers Life Fieldhouse then hosted “garbage time” for the remainder of the game, as everyone expected, with a decimated Lakers team thriving off newly signed Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks.

Thursday’ meeting with the Milwaukee Bucks, the league’s fuel station for all the bottom feeder “tank” talk, became just another dance to the same song.

Well … for those who want to get technical, the 101-96 victory over Milwaukee would have been the same song, different dance, to a different verse.

The Pacers seem to enjoy duping people, especially with the sizzling start in the first 12 minutes on Thursday.  Opening up a 30-15 lead out of the gate, coach Frank Vogel better have been smiling about his frontline. Roy Hibbert ensured that the Bucks remembered how badly they missed Larry Sanders in the middle, scoring 8 points on 4-of-6 field goals in the opening quarter. It was clear which version of Hibbert decided to show up, as he used his jump hook, a turnaround jumper over Zaza Pachulia, and even cleanup service for David West to put the pressure on Milwaukee early.  You name it, Hibbert executed it.

Following a near-ideal first quarter for Indiana — 68.4% shooting and 9 assisted field goals — would be one of the few highlights for Larry Drew’s Bucks this season.

O.J. Mayo finally chose to earn some chunks of an $8 million salary with his impressive touch from beyond the arc. Three 3-pointers, 2 off of wide-open catch-and-shoot jumpers that Evan Turner couldn’t close out on, contributed to Mayo’s 10 second-quarter points. While it wasn’t quite the 43-16 thumping Milwaukee gave Philadelphia in second on Monday night, it was still a shock that the Bucks could place 35 points on the best defense the sport has to offer.

There had to be another inspiring talk from Vogel in the locker room.

After Tuesday’s win over Los Angeles, Vogel was asked about his halftime speeches. “I’m really good at them, what can I say,” Vogel said with a chuckle.  “These guys know when to turn it up.”

His guys didn’t let him down against Milwaukee either, outscoring the Buckes 23-16 in the third quarter.

Dan Burke, a Pacers’ assistant coach, probably jumpstarted the defensive pressure in the locker room, as it appeared to be his focal point in the halftime interview with Brooke Olzendam. “We gave up a couple of blow-bys, where they’re defensive turnovers,” said Burke. “We got to get into their airspace and challenge shots …. we’re not challenging enough jumpers. Mayo hit that three from the fried doughnut section, and you can’t do anything about that, but they got to start feeling us, we have to start hitting guys. Hit them first, and just get our energy up a little bit.”

With those statements, some would argue he’s the most insightful during in-game chats.

The Pacers made the staff proud, nonetheless, by wreaking havoc on the defensive end throughout the third. In a quarter where Indiana wasn’t even at its best on offense, the team re-gained a 7-point lead by hounding the Bucks and holding them to just 31.8% shooting. Rattling Mayo was the central task for Turner in the final minute of the quarter, as Indiana’s new sixth man utilized his length and forced Mayo into a jump-ball situation that ignited more than just the crowd:

Just 2 third-quarter turnovers for the Pacers kept Milwaukee from doing any more damage, while 8 more points from Hibbert spurred a 23-16 victory in the third-quarter battle that ultimately decided the war.

Milwaukee’s Third-Quarter Shot Chart

Bucks 3rd Quarter Shotchart

This wasn’t the first time we’ve witnessed a superb third from this group. And it likely won’t be the last. Because in 57 third quarters this season, the Pacers have averaged performed significantly above league average.

League Average 3Q: 24.6 points, 44.8% (FG), 35.9% (3PT)
Pacers Average 3Q: 26.1 points, 48.8% (FG), 42.6% (3PT)

Putting the brakes on any opposing first-half run is something that won’t just help Indiana secure its playoff position with a mid-60s win-total, but will also play dividends in postseason matchups against star power talent. While the Brooklyn Nets did not register a win against Indiana in four tries this season, their skilled veterans are more than capable of jumping all over an opponent in stretches. The Pacers’ gift to put everything behind them entering halftime — forgetting the past 24 minutes of play — allows them to enter a zone defensively that only a few other teams in the league can reach.

LeBron James and the Miami Heat present the largest threat to Indiana’s number-one ranked defense, but Vogel has even been able to develop methods to slow down that barrage in second halves. With Hibbert out of foul trouble in crunch time, the Pacers’ verticality disruption will do their job in forcing more outside looks than interior buckets.

Head-to-head with the 11-46 Bucks, specifically, Indiana never fails to execute when it feels the game is too close for comfort.

When the games have been within 5 points (with either team leading), the Pacers have excelled in all three meetings against the wounded deer. Shooting 51.3% from the field and 50.0% from long range in that situation, it’s easy to pinpoint where Indiana draws the line and begins to buckle down.

As we saw in the most recent win over Milwaukee, ball movement continues to be an aspect of the game that can either make, or break, the Pacers.

When Indiana was making its third-quarter defensive statement, the offense became noteworthy as well. George Hill, who faces tons of criticism for not being a “true point guard,” gets a bad rap for a lack of strong offensive stats, particularly in the assist department. Nevertheless, in Thursday’s third quarter, he found Hibbert on two occasions that led to buckets. First, using paint penetration to draw defensive pressure, Hill delivered a behind-the-back pass to his center for an easy slam. It was followed by Hill setting up Hibbert for a mid-range jumper after a missed assignment by Pachulia. The decision making is there, it’s just not always executed to the amount fans want to see.

Denoting the fact that the Pacers know when to come together and feed off each other, it’s impressive just how well they set up teammates in third quarters: 58.9% of Indiana’s made field goals in third quarters, are assisted.  That is the highest ratio of any of the four periods and, if Vogel is aware of that, he should be even prouder of his halftime talks.

Despite 4 3-pointers from Milwaukee in the fourth, the Pacers were able to ride along the “good Lance, bad Lance” train and, luckily, Stephenson’s top-notch energy gave the team 9 points in the quarter to escape.

The Pacers are now 28-3 at home, doing all they possibly can to hold off Miami for the top seed in the Eastern Conference by controlling their own destiny, so to speak. Ten home games remain for the Pacers, as they hit the road to Boston before returning home to host the Utah Jazz on Sunday, and the Golden State Warriors next Tuesday.

Of those 10 games left in front of their home crowd, make yourself a bet that many will feature Indiana’s best tendency: using a second-half mentality to put teams away.

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Tags: After The Break

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