Adjustments: How Can the Pacers Crawl Back Against the Raptors?

Apr 21, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (33) guards Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) in the second half in game three of the first round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Toronto defeated Indiana 101-85. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 21, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (33) guards Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) in the second half in game three of the first round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Toronto defeated Indiana 101-85. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

The Indiana Pacers have gotten killed in two straight games and now must consider making some changes to the rotation.

The Indiana Pacers trailing 2-1 is normal. 7-seeds aren’t supposed to beat 2-seeds.

Since 1982, only six 7-seeds have completed the upset, the 2010 Spurs being the most recent example. (Ironically, George Hill played a huge role in that first-round upset of the Dallas Mavericks and was soon traded to the Indiana Pacers.)

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In Games 2 and 3, the Toronto Raptors demonstrated why they won 56 games this year en route to handing the Pacers two consecutive blowout losses. The Pacers are not supposed to beat the Raptors, and it seems increasingly likely that they will not.

However, Game 1 showed us that the Pacers have the best player in the series and that they are capable of playing great defensive basketball. Those two factors by themselves may not be enough to topple the Raptors, but they are conceivably enough to keep them in the series. In order to win, the Pacers will have to make some adjustments.

Understanding Adjustments

Before we talk about actual adjustments that Frank Vogel could make, it’s important to note a few main points concerning adjustments generally. Keep these two factors in mind.

1. Adjustments don’t always work
No matter how stupid coaches are in the basketball minds that shout loudly on Twitter, coaches typically develop game plans for a reason. Any deviation from the game plan, in theory, is probably a deviation away from what the coach thinks is his team’s most optimal strategy.

Further, it’s hard for a team that’s spent an entire season say, dropping below the screener on pick and rolls, to all of the sudden trap at the top of the key. Adjustments are tricky from a strategic standpoint and scary from a coaching standpoint. It’s often just as likely that adjustments will doom a team’s chances of winning more than they will help.

Nobody has probably ever said it better than Hornets coach Steve Clifford, responding to media questions about necessary adjustments after Charlotte fell down 0-2 to the Heat this week.

“Not to be disrespectful, but you guys watch these games and you just come up like something’s got to change,” he said. “Where sometimes you have to do the basic things better. Which is what basketball is. It kills me. Jeff Van Gundy always used to say, ‘Writers always love to say, “They made an adjustment.”’ Usually the adjustment is some guy that went 1-for-8 [now went] 6-for-8.

“And I’m not joking. But if you’re not sitting here watching the film, no disrespect, you have no idea what should happen. I heard Pat Riley say this 16 years ago: ‘Until I watch the film, I really don’t know.’ I’ll watch it; I just made my notes in there about what I think will happen. I tell Scott [Fowler of the Charlotte Observer] this all the time. When I watch the film on the plane, half of it will be wrong. Because all I do is watch film. So this knee-jerk thing about ‘something’s got to change’? Everybody’s been asking me for two days, ‘What about starting Al [Jefferson] so your offense is better?’ Our offense was 1.07 points per possession. You guys are looking at 91 points. You’re wrong. Sorry.”

2. There are two teams playing and two coaches coaching in every game
Adjustments may not be the panacea that teams seek because there is always a counter-adjustment to be made. The best example of this was the famous 2004 Eastern Conference Finals between the Pacers and Pistons.

Rick Carlisle and Larry Brown put on a coaching clinic of chess master-level adjustments, changing starting lineups and going from small-ball to traditional to power lineups at the drop of a hat. The Pacers ultimately lost that chess match, not because Rick Carlisle made bad adjustments (my favorite when he inserted Austin Croshere into the starting lineup after riding the pine for several games), but because the Pistons always had an answer. Typically, better teams (like 2-seeds) will be more versatile and therefore be more capable of making a wider array of adjustments over the course of a 7-game series.

The 2016 Indiana Pacers aren’t supposed to beat the Toronto Raptors, but if they are going to have any chance whatsoever, Frank Vogel is going to need to at least try something different. Here are three adjustments that the Pacers could make in Game 4 to turn the series around.

Adjustment #1: Start Myles Turner

This seems like the most obvious and most likely solution after Game 3. Pacers fans have been befuddled all year by Lavoy Allen’s stellar plus/minus numbers, and Frank Vogel inserted him into the starting lineup late in the season after a few terrible losses at the hands of the Nets and Magic. In fairness to Vogel, the move worked. The Pacers finished the season on a nice little spurt and locked down the 7-seed. Allen brings a tenacity on the offensive glass that is unmatched by any other Indiana Pacer, and he’s an intelligent, albeit undersized, defender.

Yet, Allen’s ceiling is limited. He doesn’t provide much offensively besides second-chance baskets — and he only has 3 offensive boards in 3 games — and a streaky 17-footer that defenses are more than willing to cede. Allen is incapable of making Luis Scola and Jonas Valanciunas work on the defensive end, thus enabling them to run wild offensively.

Turner, on the other hand, is a streaky rookie who commits two or three brain farts every quarter. More than once this season, Turner has placed himself in the wrong position during important end-of-game plays. He is often in the wrong spot defensively, even though he’s more than capable of redeeming himself with some fantastic recovery blocks. In Games 1 and 2, he proved to be no match for Valanciunas under the basket as he got outmuscled by the big Lithuanian. Basically, he’s a rookie, and he often plays like a rookie. But the Pacers can’t worry about Turner’s mistakes when they’re playing against a better team. They need upside, and Turner provides it.

There may only be a one-in-four chance that he posts a 20/10 line in 30 minutes in Game 4, but there is a near-zero-in-a-million chance that Allen does that ever in his career. Pacers need upside and firepower right now more than reliable defensive positioning.

Turner is already the Pacers most offensively-talented big man. Teams have to respect his jump shot out to about 20-feet and the spacing it brings is invaluable — both to Paul George and Monta Ellis on the wings, but also Ian Mahinmi rolling through the lane. Turner is capable of scoring 20 points on any given night, and those extra points are crucial when playing against a better team. Most importantly, Turner will force Toronto’s bigs to defend him. This extra expended energy, combined with the higher possibility of foul trouble for Valanciunas, would potentially boost Indiana’s chances of winning.

Vogel must do it, and I think he will do it in Game 4. This is less of an adjustment and more of a “well, obviously” change to the starting lineup.

Adjustment #2: Give Jordan Hill Some Run

If you haven’t watched the Pacers much this year, this statement probably seems crazy. “What could that lazy, no-defense former Laker possibly bring to the table?” you might ask.

I was skeptical of Hill coming into this season, but surprisingly, he was quite good for this year’s Pacers squad. Hill averaged 15 points and 11 rebounds per 36 minutes this year, and was often the Pacers’ best offensive threat off the bench. The Pacers were able to run their offense through him for three and four minute stretches, and his array of low-post moves is shockingly versatile and effective.

Inexplicably, Hill was shelved over the last two weeks of the season. Vogel inserted Allen into the starting lineup and started giving Solomon Hill some more run with the bench. To be fair, Solomon Hill has played well during this stretch. But the complete benching of Jordan Hill makes very little sense.

It makes even less sense in a series that has seen the Pacers bullied down low and on the glass at nearly every turn. Further, the Indiana bench has been absolutely atrocious offensively, singlehandedly thwarting the Pacers’ prospects of winning Games 2 and 3.

Jordan Hill could provide some help. Defensively, he’s an above-average rebounder — who posted the second-best defensive rebounding rate on the team this year — who should help shut down the Raptors easy time on the offensive boards. Offensively, he would force the Toronto bigs to actually guard him in the post, and his crafty post game would probably be good for at least two Toronto fouls a game.

Lavoy Allen’s consistency is a wonderful thing to have over the course of a long season, but the Pacers need upside against the Raptors, and Jordan Hill has it. Allen’s minutes in this series should probably not exceed 0 again in this series. He isn’t getting offensive boards and his net rating while on the court through three games is a team -21.5. Nice effort, Lavoy, but your season should be over.

Adjustment #3: Make Monta Ellis the Sixth Man

This is probably the least likely of the possible moves, but in my opinion, it might pay the highest dividends. To say that Pacers fans have been divided on Ellis this year would be an understatement worthy of Ben Franklin. (There are 1% jokes and then there are 0.1% jokes — shout out to both of you that understood that reference and the one of you that actually thought it was funny).

Ellis has been wildly inconsistent this season, fluctuating from MONTA HAVE IT ALL to MONTA BE BROKE with seldom a stop in between.

However, Ellis deserves credit. While he’s not a great defensive player, he’s been an eager defensive player all season. Further, he’s been a legitimately great guy in the locker room and has been a leader on the team. He has dealt with an inconsistent role all season with nary a complaint, and has relished (perhaps too much) the opportunity to take big shots for the Indiana Pacers.

Some players of Ellis’s (perceived) stature would balk at the idea of moving out of the starting lineup. However, Ellis has shown (this season at least) that he is willing to help the team in whatever way possible. Moving Ellis out of the starting lineup in favor of C.J. Miles could pay huge dividends for the Pacers.

First of all, Miles would space the floor better for the Pacers while also offering more size on the perimeter defensively. Ellis has been undersized all series no matter who he’s been guarding in Toronto’s starting lineup. Not only has this been tough for the Pacers defensively, limiting their ability to switch on certain actions, but it’s also given Ellis some fits on the other end. Ellis is only shooting 38% inside the line, with many of those misses coming at the rim. Miles would offer more flexibility defensively while also stretching Toronto’s defense out further than they want to play. We also have a little bit of an upside argument playing in here as well, as Miles is one of the streakiest players in the league. Any game in which Miles makes 3 or 4 threes would be a huge boon to the Pacers’ chances.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, Ellis could potentially lift the Pacers’ bench out of its devastating doldrums. A bench unit of Lawson, Ellis, Stuckey, Solomon Hill, and Jordan Hill probably wouldn’t be able to defend the Indiana Hoosiers, but it would at least provide some scoring punch. Ellis might be able to attack Toronto’s bench with the same abandon that we used to see out of him in Golden State. While the bench should conceivably shrink in the playoffs, it’s not possible to erase it entirely. The Pacers have been getting destroyed during the four to five minutes of each half that their bench has played. They need a “go-to guy” to help them, and Ellis could fill that role.

Maybe best of all, he could run that team. Ty Lawson has been a disaster. He has a team worst -35 net rating. During Lawson’s 37 minutes on the court in these playoffs, he has led an offense that has scored 85.7 points per 100, per That is disgraceful — perhaps even more so than the 120.8 per 100 they’ve allowed while Lawson has graced the court.

Bench Lawson, let Monta run in the backcourt with Stuckey and see what happens. The shooting would be rough, but both of those guys can get hot from midrange and get into the lane. Against reserves, who can’t pack the paint with as much discipline, this high-energy attack, particularly in transition, may offset some of the disastrous results the bench produced in Games 2 and 3.

In the end, it may not be work. Or it may work and still not be enough. There’s a reason that almost everyone in the world (except Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN) predicted the Raptors to win this series.

But it would be nice to see Vogel try something new. I mean actually try. That’s all Pacers fans could ask for.