The Pacers Have No Accountability and Don't Understand What Is Important

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For better of for worse (spoiler alert: it’s for worse), this team is overly dependent on its starters. They are one of the best five-man units in the NBA (and have been dating back to when Stephenson’s spot was filled by Danny Granger). Vogel either knows this and exploits it or has actively created it. Regardless, he constructs his rotation in a way to maximize the amount of time that his best five best players share the court.

During the regular season, only Minnesota’s starters averaged more time on the court together (21 minutes per game) than the 20 minutes per game the Pacers starters played together. Last year in the playoffs, that number was 23.0 minutes together per game for Indian’s starting five.

In Games 1 and 2 of this series, they played together for 28 and 30 minutes, respectively. In last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the starting lineup saw at least 24 minutes together in all but one game. In a Game 5 loss, Lance Stephenson missed most of the first quarter with foul trouble, so they only played 16 minutes as a unit.

Which brings us to the last two games, Games 3 and 4, in which the starters played just 15 and 13 minutes together, respectively.

This, more than the points tallied at the line, is what hurts the Pacers the most in a practical sense. Points are theoretically infinite and can be made up. The minutes in a game are finite. So it is imperative that the starters are able to be on the court together as much as possible. Because, roughly speaking, the Pacers play well with their starters on the court but normally do not when even one reserve is on the floor.

So, yes, the foul trouble in Game 4 really hurt the Pacers.

And Stephenson’s first two fouls were soft calls. The first was absolutely egregious, as he merely gave a slight bump to Dwyane Wade while the Heat guard was trying to use an off-ball pick. There was barely even incidental contact, and this is the NBA equivalent of “holding on every play” in the NFL. This happens on every possession and is rarely called.

The second foul, which came early in the second quarter, was a bit better but still soft, with Stephenson getting whistled for a loose ball foul for nudging an airborne Udonis Haslem while they were both going for a board. Udonis was affected by the contact and may well have gotten the board though, so I do get it even if it’s not really an “Eastern Conference Finals blood feud” foul.

As bad as they were, however, there is no debating that Lance responded stupidly.

On the same possession — exactly 11 seconds after picking up his second foul — Stephenson bit on a patented Wade shot fake, elevated for a block, and came down hitting Dwyane on the side. You can piss and moan about Wade jumping a bit sideways to draw the contact if you want, but it was an absolutely idiotic play by Lance. With two fouls, in a borderline-elimination game, you need to know that your ongoing presence on the court is more important than contesting an 18-foot jumper.

Players must have the discipline to not put themselves in a position to draw fouls. Moreover, they must understand of what is and isn’t important in terms of affecting the game.

Contesting that shot was a trivial moment, an inconsequential play. But Lance playing 8 minutes in the second quarter was critical. Instead, he chose to contest and ended up playing just 44 seconds in the period.

If Lance held himself accountable for his own actions, he would tell you that it was his fault he forced to sit with foul trouble, even though his first two fouls were, for lack of a better word, bullshit.

Had the third been something random like the first two where he was picked on for just playing basketball, then OK, blame the refs. But knowing how to play the game on the verge of foul trouble is a skill, and Lance did not display that skill here. Even had he jumped at the pump fake three minutes later, it might be easier to blame the refs a bit. But doing so 11 seconds after you pick up your second foul? That’s just idiotic.

Lance wasn’t the only guy in foul trouble, however.

Hibbert also got himself a seat on the bench for the final 2:50 of the half after picking up his third foul. He, too, has a good case to complain about ticky tack whistles.

Here was the first foul he committed.

Roy 1

Definitely a bit handsy, but not exactly Hacksaw Jim Duggan. It is the hand on the hip of driving guy, however, so I can see why it was called even if it is a bit soft.

The second one was worse.

Roy 2

It’s a nearly identical-looking play, though Mario Chalmers is thrown off balance more after Hibbert’s hand is put on his hip. Hard to say how much of this is floppy vs. a littler guy being actually driven off his path by a big man’s force. Not a Bill Laimbeer foul though.

Regardless, Hibbert knew he had two fouls after this, and he still decided to try his luck at verticality less than 90 seconds later.

Wade drove baseline and Hibbert jumped to challenge the layup. And he fouled him. It is tough to see on the video of the mid-air encounter, but Roy extends his arms at about a 45-degree angle and makes forearm-to-forearm contact as Wade is trying to shoot.

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 1.54.28 PMScreen Shot 2014-05-27 at 1.54.43 PM

That’s not verticality (even if Roy gets the benefit of the doubt on these arm-extending tries sometimes), and the call forced Roy to the bench for the final 2:50 of the half.

That isn’t so long, though, and Indiana actually ran even, 7-7, with Miami for the rest of the quarter. So no real harm.

More hurtful was his fourth foul, which came 3:11 into the third quarter.

LeBron drove off a pick and roll and challenged Roy in the paint. James was fading away a bit on his own, but Hibbert clearly pushed off into LeBron’s back as he went up for the shot.

Roy 4

This is the fourth call, and the one that forced Roy to sit for more than six minutes.

Again, if you want to break this play down Zapruder style and debate what is and isn’t a foul for a half hour, knock yourself out. But as with Lance, this is more just an example of a Pacer player not understanding what is and is not important.

LeBron is trying to take a tough, short-mid-range shot. That is the type of shot Indiana wants LeBron (and Wade) to take. Meanwhile, Hibbert was twice whistled for fouls in the first half for putting his hands on the body of a driving Heat player. Those are two reasons that he should have let LeBron just try to throw up whatever floater nonsense he was going to try to bank in on this drive.

It’s just dumb.

As bad as he has often been since the beginning of February — and especially in these playoffs — Hibbert must keep himself on the court. After he left, Indiana’s rim protection fell apart, with superb Miami pick and rolls carving up the Pacers’ interior and Ian Mahinmi committing a series of layup-saving fouls (and, yes, I watched them all again, and they were all fouls).

But instead of keeping himself on the floor, he puts his hands on a driving superstar who was about to take the type of shot his coach has been telling him for years that they want LeBron taking.

Again, and like with Lance, it’s just bad decision making. It’s a failure to adjust your behavior after the environment changes. When you are on the frontier of foul trouble, you need to play differently — not get stuck in your head about how you have been wronged in the past and continue operating as if the game just began.

Instead, the Pacers — as illustrated by George and West’s post-game reference to the officiating — don’t even know why this is so dumb. If anything, Paul George, David West, and Frank Vogel should be criticizing their teammates, Lance and Roy, for letting them down by making bad decisions.

I mean, really, those three should be taking the Chris Paul approach and finding the things they did wrong individually, and owning those mistakes while pledging to learn from them. If they are going to be upset with others, however, they should be upset with Stephenson and Hibbert, who ensured that that starters were only on the court together for 13 minutes instead of the 30 they played together during their Game 1 win.

But, nah, let’s blame the refs. Those dudes are jerks.

It’s what makes all this doubly disconcerting.

The Pacers refuse to take accountability for their own actions — and it’s partly because they don’t even know that their individual choices are so poor.

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Tags: Indiana Pacers

  • Ian

    I mostly agree with what you are saying. Even if the fouls weren’t fouls at all and the refs just blew the call, you don’t call out and blame the officials. If the game was super close and a couple calls decided it, then I can definitely understand the player’s frustration. But this was one of those games where the final score, as bad as it was, didn’t reflect how lopsided the game really was. Miami got hosed at the foul line in game 1 and all the talk from them was about their horrible defense, not how the refs punished them.

    That said, the refs did seem to have a pretty strong double standard, calling countless touch fouls and phantom fouls on the Pacers while letting the Heat get away with murder. This is unfortunately how NBA officiating works. The officials get caught up in each team’s energy and call fouls based on who is being the attacker vs. the attacked, rather than who is actually committing fouls. And home court certainly plays a part.

    I’m hoping Vogel pulls the guys together and gives them a rant like he did earlier in the playoffs, tells the to knock off the BS and work their buts off. I have little faith that the Pacers can win the series but it’d be shameful if they can’t make it go six.

  • Grant

    Isn’t this a justification for removing Vogel this off-season and to place a coach who can actually lead this Pacers team, have them play with passion, quit whining after every call and stop feeling “comfortable” (George Hill said today that the Pacers got too comfortable after game 1, I repeat, after game 1, against
    the 2 time defending champions with the best player in the world).

    There are very few ways to improve the Pacers moving forward as the rest of the Eastern Conference. catches up, wouldn’t placing a true leader at coach help improve their mindset and attitude dramatically? I am not a huge fan of Mark Jackson, but his players completely bought in to him, gave great effort and battled to the end; very different from this years continually and inappropriately complacent, whinny team.

    • Ian

      Every coach is good at some things and bad at others. While Mark Jackson would be tempting, he also somehow managed to generate basically a league average offense at GS despite all the talent on the roster. Mostly it was ‘give the ball to Steph and make him do something’.

      Perhaps Vogel has lost the team. If they lose game 5, then that might be a sign. The biggest names out there right now are Jackson and George Karl.

      I do think that if the Pacers keep him they need to hire a full time offensive coordinator and let him focus on defense.

    • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

      I guess it depends on how much credit you give Vogel for the elite defense. Do you think it is Vogel’s vision or simply a result of uniquely talented defensive players? There was a point earlier this year where the Pacers were on pace to have a top 5 defense all time when adjusting for league average scoring.

      • Special K

        I personally don’t think the Vogel does anything particularly special. It really shows when he’s matched up against a dynamic offense and basically keeps hammering more of the same Pacerball while they get shredded in key moments. I’ve never seen him make a particularly impressive adjustment pre-game or in-game do compensate for an opponent’s strength.

        • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

          I think I lean more towards Ian. I’ve got Vogel behind Pop, Carlisle, Rivers, Spoelstra, and Stan the Man. Being the sixth best coach in the league is not an indictment. As far as the in game adjustments go, Hibbert just doesn’t strike me as a particularly adjustment friendly player. On both ends of the floor he only realizes his value right around the basket.

          I mean, what adjustment can Vogel make to make Hibbert mobile enough to challenge the floaters while still being able to recover to the rim?

          Offensively the criticism is more valid. He needs an offensive minded assistant to take responsibility for that. Mike Dantoni is unemployed right now. =O

          • Special K

            Well I think that’s exactly it. Even if you can’t adjust around Hibbert, you have four other guys on the court and a bench that you can work with to work around his weaknesses. If your system is so rigid that you can’t move some pieces around, then you’re lacking something. Mahinmi has a little more athleticism to float out to the wing when needed, or he could move some other pieces around to compensate for Roy’s issues. Obviously it won’t work 100% of the time, but it’s not as though other coaches don’t have players with obvious weaknesses. The top guys find ways to adjust to attack the opponent’s strength. I’ve never really seen Vogel do anything like that.

      • Ian

        I think you have to give Vogel a lot of credit. Before he took over Indy was an awful defensive team. The two major additions were Hill and West, and the loss of Danny. Hill was always a good defender, but West wasn’t considered particularly good, and George was just potential. No one ever thought Lance would be a good defensive player, and there were doubts whether Hibbert would even stick in the league. I think you have to give Vogel credit for their development. In addition, the way the Pacers defense works is important. It’s statistically very sound, it doesn’t succeed by accident (limiting 3s and paint shots).

        • Special K

          “It’s statistically very sound, it doesn’t succeed by accident (limiting 3s and paint shots).”
          And that works very well against mediocre teams. It seems to break down completely against higher tier foes. Miami (who, admittedly does it better than almost everyone else) seems to be able to get in the paint or find open threes whenever they want in this series. Some adjustments have to be made to compensate for what you know Miami will do rather than just trying to stick to the same man-on-man, slow rotating structure.

  • 15points126seconds

    damn, jared is probably our biggest critic. guess you chalk up this season to growing pains and hope The Five mature after the long offseason. Think Frank needs a new offensive-minded assistant and has to figure out how to incorporate the bench better. cant run the starters into the ground.

    • Ian

      Yes I think the problem with Vogel’s system is it relies on having 5 guys on the floor who can both defend and score in multiple ways. This is hard to do. That’s why most teams have a 2-3 multi dimensional players and a bunch of specialists to play off of them. This will require George and Lance to keep improving and allow them to make players around themselves more effective.

      This also reinforces the need to resign Lance. Even though he is up and down, he’s 23. He’s the only change the Pacers have of getting another top-flight player on the roster. They certainly aren’t going to be able to trade for one.

      • 15points126seconds

        so this is really the interesting point- ppl who think the pacers should retool drastically haven’t been paying attention
        We developed 3 non-lottery guys into very solid starters, took a chance on West coming off an ACL, and helped make PG into a budding/borderline superstar. But right now the value for Hill and Hibbert have never been lower and it would be a mistake to sell on them now. Better yet to realize our team is young and allow them to improve their games and give it another go next year. After all the pacers starters have the second youngest weighted by minutes team to make it to 2 straight conference finals (after OKC).
        With the money committed to hibbert (4yrs/58 mil), west (3yrs/36mil), and pg (4yrs, ~90mil?) the only conceivable way to make a move is to move hill (5yrs/40 mil) and/or lance. idk if we could get a kyle lowry type or not, but if we can convince lance to accept a hill-type of contract (which would be a hometown discount) we gotta jump on that.

    • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

      I don’t think the starters were run into the ground… at least in the regular season. I haven’t looked at post season data. Roy and West each only played about 30 mpg. Hill played a little more than that. Lance and George were both in the top 25 in mpg, but they are both also hyperathletic and young. None of that really jumps off the page at me.

      What does jump off the page is just how many minutes those 5 play on the floor together. That means that the remaining minutes of the game are going to be bench units with unusually few starters on the floor, and those lineups are not going to get nearly as much run as they do with some other teams.

      Simply put, you are setting your bench up for failure and marginalizing them at the same time by having such a rigid rotation that results in long stretches of time where your best player on the floor might be CJ Watson. I’ve loved Watson since college, but there is a reason he is on a $1 mil per year contract.

      When you look at Miami’s rotations as a comparison, it quickly becomes clear that Spoelstra is utilizing a vastly different philosophy. Spoelstra ALWAYS has either Wade or LeBron on the quart, and most of the time Bosh is in when one of the two sits. The idea is to always have enough firepower from your starting unit on the floor to allow your bench players to be effective. Vogel doesn’t do this.

      Now, Vogel doesn’t have the top end offensive star power that Miami does. As good as Lance and PG are, they aren’t as good with the ball in their hands as Dwyane and LeBron respectively. So maybe comparing the two is unfair.

      Still, the point remains that even if the number of minutes played isn’t unusual, Vogel’s substitution pattern is an outlier in the NBA and seems to be a liability.

      • Ian

        Actually, do to their relatively health, the Pacers starters played more total minutes than any other starting 5 in the NBA.

        And your comment about LeBron and Wade ties into what I was saying and the criticality of keeping Lance, and having Paul and Lance continue to develop. They need two top quality ball handler/scorers who can draw attention and make their teammates better for the Pacers to become less dependent on playing the ’5′ altogether. Without a true point, Vogel needs to be able to count on them not only getting their own shots but enabling good shots for their teammates, and they are the only guys on the roster with the potential to do that. Kyle Lowry and the other top PG free agents aren’t going to fit on the Pacers salary structure, and Hill and Hibbert aren’t going to bring much back in return. So they have to count on Paul and Lance developing into the kind of playmakers LeBron and Wade are.

        • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

          I have to wonder if the “no true point guard” thing is overblown. I know that Hill and Watson aren’t world beaters, but there have been multiple Pacer point guards that have left Vogel’s system and been more successful elsewhere.

          Perhaps it is more a matter of diversifying the offense more. I know that playing West and Hibbert together can be somewhat limiting, but it certainly seems like there is room for more active sets.

          Good point about the starters not missing games, but I don’t think they actually have played more minutes. I think they have played more minutes TOGETHER (I may just be completely off base here). Regardless, I’m showing Lance and PG are the only two players in the top 50 in total minutes played during the regular season. Conversely, all five of Portland’s starters were in the top 50 in minutes played while two of their starters played more minutes than anyone for Ind.

          • Ian

            There was an article on it on ESPN. Portland and Indy were the top two. The theory was it would catch up in the playoffs and it sort of looks like it has.

            As for point guard, don’t get me wrong. Hill and Watson are good players. But they are more 3-and-D guards than playmakers. You need to have very skilled ball handling wings and big men to make that work (see, Jordan’s Bulls, current Heat). The Pacers need Lance and George to develop into the general sphere of those guys for the Pacers to be able to bring their role players into the game better.

          • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

            Well taken on all counts.

  • Ian

    As for Roy, I think he’s largely right. He needs to get the ball more. The problem is that against Miami’s press it takes the point guards 10 seconds to get the ball up court which means not enough time to feed the post.

    If there’s one thing the Pacers should be working on for game 5 its advancing the ball and getting into their offense MUCH quicker against pressure. If that means PG and Lance advancing the ball most of the time then fine.

    • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

      Modern defenses just make it sooooo difficult to get the ball into the deep post when they are trying to prevent that. This just isn’t the 90s anymore where you couldn’t leave the shooter in the weak side corner to help defend the entry pass.

      Hibbert is going to have to expand his game to be consistently effective…. which is kind of bizarre to say since he has those hook shots, a little midrange jumper, and even a one dribble faceup game when everything is working. Unfortunately it isn’t always working, and I think part of that is that he has to catch the ball in the exact right spot to do it.

      Regardless, he needs a two dribble face up game and a more consistent 10 footer, I think.

      • Ian

        You are right, but if the Pacers can try to get it into the post with 18 seconds on the shot clock and give up, they can go with plan B or C. If they fail getting it into the post with 10 seconds on the shot clock, there’s not much time to do anything else but ISO into a bad midrange shot.

        • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

          Yeah. The Pacers don’t really have a continuity to their offense. They run a motion, and if it doesn’t work they end up having to reset and run another motion. Like you said, after a certain point clearing out or a simple pick and roll is the only thing you really have time for. The best offensive teams have secondary and tertiary motions that flow out of their primary motion unless it is just completely defeated.

          It is funny you bring up that 18 second number. A lot of the time when LeBron brings the ball up the court, he walks very casually and crosses half court right around that 16-17 second mark. It frustrates me to no end because I know they won’t get into their offense until about 14 seconds left on the clock. It may be confirmation bias, but it certainly seems like they have a disproportionate number of wasted possessions when they do that.

          I was noticing that in game 1 the Heat did that alot while Indiana was getting over half court with 20 seconds on the clock and, like you said, were putting the ball in the post with 18 seconds left.

          Indiana has to make that 18 second number their goal if they want to challenge for this series. They may not have the ball control skills to make it happen, but they absolutely have to try.

      • Special K

        It doesn’t help that Roy, despite being the biggest guy on the court 95% of the time (100% of the time in this series) is gawd awful at getting position on the low block. He posts up 15 feet out and the starts gently nudging his man. In the spots that he gets the ball, he isn’t capable of consistently making things happen. I agree that his game is severely lacking in alternatives in these situations.

        • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

          People forget that Shaq frequently posted up at 15 feet. He had a killer runner across the lane and had a wicked spin move to the baseline if you cheated to cut off the middle of the court.

          Hibbert isn’t Shaq, but my point is that Shaq was a guy that didn’t have a strong midrange but was still dangerous working out of the mid or even high post.

          • Special K

            Sure, agree, and yes I remember. But the difference is exactly what you stated, Shaq both had the toughness to back a guy down from that spot, or to make moves that got him clean shots. Hibbert seems like he’d rather move away from the basket to get his shots in those situations, and could learn a thing or two from Scola’s up and under moves. The fact is that while it’s possible to be useful in the post when you’re out that far, Hibbert is not.

  • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

    Wow…. this may be the most hypercritical call out by a local writer I have seen in some time. I applaud the honestly, but I would imagine it might not generate many happy feelings if you do much on site work.

  • Special K

    If the Heat are merciful (they’re not), they would put the Pacers, and their fans, out of their misery tonight. They went ahead and sat their old bodies because they know that the Pacers are a beaten, broken team, and not even a remote threat any longer in this series. I’d like to say that I expect the Pacers to rise to the occasion, even if just for one game, but they have yet to really rise to any occasion all season, so I can’t think of any reason that I’d expect that today. This team is missing the metaphorical “it.” Whatever Miami has and San Antonio has and (thankfully) Andrew Luck has, The Pacers have none of it. This team fell apart shortly after the All Star break and no one in the locker room or the front office could put it back together. In the words of Jack Nicholson’s Joker, “This (team) needs an enema.”