Pacers defense coming together just in time for playoffs

The Indiana Pacers may have finally figured out their defensive identity just in time for the playoffs.

Indiana Pacers v Golden State Warriors
Indiana Pacers v Golden State Warriors / Ezra Shaw/GettyImages

Since the start of the season, by far the biggest issue with the Indiana Pacers has been their defense. So much so, that Indiana's lack of defense was a point of mockery from fans and critics alike, as they relied on their fast-paced play and scoring to win games from November through January.

As a reference, in November and December, the Pacers were near the bottom of the league in defensive rating at around 121.6, defensive rebounds per game at around 28 per game, opponent second-chance points, and fast break points at around 16 per game each, and dead last in opponent points in the paint at around 63.

Combine that with allowing around 125 points per game in those two months, and you have the recipe of plenty of blown games, preventable scoring explosions, and moments where their abysmal defense often overshadowed their record-setting offense.

The majority of the Pacers' losses in the first half came from their defense, as they regularly gave up big nights to the opposing team's best wing players such as Kyle Kuzma, Jerami Grant, and Pascal Siakam.

Speaking of Siakam, the Pacers' defensive resurgence is partially due to him. While his offensive production speaks for itself, Siakam finally gave Indiana what they were missing dearly, a big wing to defend other big wings and prevent players like Aaron Nesmith and Bruce Brown (the guy he was traded for), from having to guard players almost half a foot taller than them.

As a result, Indiana's defense has improved drastically since the trade, especially in the last month or so. After giving up an average of 128 points in November, 123 in December, 119 in January, and 118 in February, the Pacers are giving up a season-low 112.8 points in the month of March. While this total isn't anything to gawk at, only ranking 19th in the league, it is still miles better than what they put out in prior months.

This was evident in the second half of Friday's game against Golden State. After giving up 67 points on 46% from the field and 40% from deep in the first half, Indiana tightened up their defensive approach and held the Warriors to a mere 44 points on 34% from the field and an abysmal 17% from deep in the second half. Stephen Curry was held to just 3/14 shooting and 3/12 from deep. Klay Thompson was scoreless on five shot attempts after he scored 15 points on 6/10 shooting in the first half.

For a team known for their lackluster defense, holding the seventh-best scoring offense and ninth-best three-point shooting team to a shell of their usual self is something to behold, especially with the greatest three-point shooter of all time struggling to get anything going in the second half and shooting 37% from the field and 33% from deep at the end of the night.

Watching the game, it became even more evident how well the Pacers were defending. Despite shooting only 37% from the field and 16% from deep in the fourth quarter and scoring only 21 points, it was Indiana's defense that kept Golden State out of the game, as they only shot 35% from the field and 10% from deep en route to only 23 points, not enough to erase the 14-point lead the Pacers held going into the quarter. There were plenty of times during the closing stretch when the Pacers couldn't get any offense going, but their defense covered for them enough to keep momentum on their side.

For example, after the Warriors cut the lead to seven with 3:07 left, the Pacers held them to 1/8 shooting and two turnovers the rest of the way, as they ended the night with a 12-point win despite the raucous Warriors crowd.

In the last 10 games, the Pacers rank sixth in defensive rating with 109.4, 13th in steals with 7.6, and second in blocks with 6.5. They also allow the fourth-lowest field goal percentage at 45.4%, third-lowest three-point percentage at 32.7, second-fewest points off turnovers with only 12 per game, and the second-fewest fast-break points with 10.5.

While a ten-game sample size is not fully indicative of future progress, it is certainly a good sign that one of the worst defensive teams in the league is seemingly fixing their approach and defending well with only 11 games left in the season.

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With the playoffs rapidly approaching, and the Pacers holding a 1.5-game lead over Philly and Miami for the 6th spot in the east, fans will have to hope that this recent defensive surge will start to be the nor, and not just a late-season outlier.