May 5, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Washington Wizards forward Trevor Ariza (1) drives to the basket against Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (24) in game one of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Pacers' Defensive Identity Caving In During Playoffs


Dropping Game 1 must be the new regime for the Indiana Pacers, as Monday’s second round tip-off with the Washington Wizards mirrored their ugly defeat in Game 1 of the first round.

Similar to Atlanta, Washington truly turned into wizards from beyond the 3-point arc.  However, it’s not something they turned into overnight. Although they finished the regular season ranking 19th in 3-pointers attempted per game (20.8), Randy Wittman’s group makes the most of their opportunities.  With those 20.8 looks from deep, Washington ranked 5th in the league in long-range efficiency (38 percent).  How?

They’re the most disciplined squad of all the “young” and “rising” teams, they’re always looking to develop those perimeter shots via ball movement and smooth halfcourt offense, and they’re not full of guys that mirror J.R. Smith or Russell Westbrook, who couldn’t care less if a shot is a good look or not.

Trevor Ariza, who nailed all six of his 3-point attempts in Washington’s Game 1 win, has been around the block a time or two.  If you didn’t avidly follow the NBA and was told Ariza is a 10-year veteran with a championship ring on his finger, you still might be clueless.  Playing for six different organizations — Knicks, Magic, Lakers, Rockets, Hornets, Wizards — Ariza isn’t new to the type of top five defensive pressure Indiana can throw at people, and he isn’t new to the large spotlight.  This is a forward that was taking monumental shots off the dribble in the 2009 NBA Finals, ball-hawking and making times extremely tough for opposing perimeter players.

Whether you categorize it with the overall Washington destruction or actually give him credit on both ends, Ariza accumulated a plus/minus of +18 when he was on the floor for the Wizards, and Wittman deciding to go 10-deep in the rotation allowed Indiana to crawl back in during key moments.

Immediately after tip, George found himself lapsing on Indiana’s own identity, the reason he takes pride in being a two-way-player;  defense.

For no significant reason, when Ariza finds Nene coming up to the charity stripe and dishes the ball off, George provides entirely too much help.  More than likely, George was cutting off Nene’s dominant hand, preventing any quick drive to the right where he would take David West off the dribble.  Did George not pay attention to any scouting report, or tune in to any part of Washington’s first round massacre of Chicago?

Ariza has been a perimeter threat, shooting 13-of-28 (46.4 percent) from outside in the opening round.  Yet, Ariza flares to the corner, and even the slightest space — given George’s recovery and long arm reach — is enough for a shooter to feel confident.

Washington, on Monday, was confident.

As was Atlanta, the only sub .500 No. 8 seed to feel confident against an East-leading team. It’s becoming a common theme: Everyone coming into Bankers Life Fieldhouse is developing the mentality that Indiana is beatable, by anyone.

In the above example, we see the Achilles heel of the Pacers that we never would have considered a problem.  That being transition defense, Indiana didn’t click in that area throughout April, and the new month isn’t beginning well neither. Evan Turner was dealt to the Pacers due to the scoring attack Larry Bird believed he could get as opposed to Danny Granger’s lost explosiveness (Ha, the joke’s on you, Larry!).  If there’s one thing everyone knew at the time of the deal, it was that Indiana would take a hit on the defensive side of the ball, as it pertains to Turner’s lack of defensive reputation and experience compared to Granger.

Above, we recognize Turner and George have no strong communication heading back down the floor after Washington grabs a board, and it leads to another perimeter bomb.  Turner, unsure if he was the man to stop the ball (Wall on the transition), is forced into scramble mode when George has to stay in front to stop any penetration.  It all happens within the matter of three seconds, which often makes it difficult to make quick decisions on the run.  However, Turner fails to notice both Ariza and Beal — Washington’s only 3-point threats in the game — setting up on the left side of the court.  Like football, basketball is also a game of inches.  In this instance, it’s a lot of inches.  Just the lack of awareness for a split second, and Ariza is able to step into his shot, without much of a contest from Turner.  George could’ve been held accountable for not sticking with his primary defensive assignment in Ariza, but you can’t allow Wall, with his ungodly burst of speed and only Turner to beat, slip through the middle before Mahinmi is set up.  The transition defense must improve, or the communication at the very least.

Here we have a different sequence (in the halfcourt) that depict how the Wall-Nene pick-and-roll is going to be demise of the Pacers in this series. What’s the difference between the Pacers and Wizards, or even Indiana vs. any other team for that matter? Indiana’s ability to execute on offense when the shot clock is winding down is calamitous, and they don’t have a point guard to innovate as well as Wall does for Washington.

With the shot clock down to six as the ball is inbounded, Wall and Nene have their go-to pick-and-roll set, something that generates better offense than anything Indiana implements in desperation.  Hitting George Hill with a screen, Nene does a perfect job of giving Wall the room to make something happen late.  Take a mental note of how quickly Wall takes off from 17 ft. out and ends up under the rim.  This is the type of explosion Indiana needs as a chief point guard, and maybe they wouldn’t have to give an arm and leg just to break the 90-point mark majority of the time.

By the time Hill fights through the screen, Wall is already in scoring territory, forcing Hibbert to switch over instantly and protect the rim.  Hibbert’s been a complete Casper on offense, so he might as well make his contribution felt on defense — unless it just means racking up five fouls in limited minutes.  This play is an illustration of what Washington can use to bury the Pacers in the second round, as there’s nothing they can do when Hill is getting eaten alive by screen-rolls with a powerful center over and over.  Hibbert makes Wall re-think a scoring chance, but notice who’s left with an open roll to the basket, with Hibbert out of the picture trying to keep up with the speed demon.

It’s all trouble, and it doesn’t help when Nene has a physical and athletic frame, able to move quicker than Hibbert and David West.

It’s not as much of Indiana falling flat on their face on both ends of the floor …. it’s the fact that every team in these playoffs have caught up to the Pacers, figuring out ways to attack early, and put tremendous pressure on their front court defenders.  The defensive preaching kept them atop the Eastern Conference in the regular season, but it means nothing against these top-notch offenses in the playoffs.

Give Atlanta just a tad bit of luck from the outside in Saturday’s Game 7, and we aren’t watching this current series.

It was already time to panic in Indianapolis based on the first round, but now it’s time to slam the panic button until your hand bleeds.

Tags: Indiana Pacers