In the last three Pacer losses, Jason Kapono, Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva each had their best game of the year for their respective teams. To be fair, all three of these guys are known for these types of outbursts and one may think the Pacers are simply unlucky to catch them on a night when they had it going.
But this whole role player going off to light up the Pacers like the Circle after Thanksgiving seems to be a trend in tough losses that has played out over the past couple of years. I have a layman's theory for why this happens which I'm sure an X's and O's junky could refute with the game tape and a little time. Such technical evidence wouldn't sway me though, because I maintain great respect for the emotional elements of the game. The feel a player has which no one can quantify other than to say he's in the zone.
So why do the Pacers bring out the best game in some players who aren't considered the first, second or even third option on offense? First, let me quickly review the past three games.
Kapono, in his first start of the year for Toronto, made 11 of 16 FGAs including 3 of 7 3-balls, finishing with 25 points and eight rebounds. He's averaging eight points a game and closer to two rebounds. He did score 16 in the Raps' next game but in their loss on Sunday, he made 1 of 7 threes and only had seven points.
Stuckey is a scorer so the fact that he went off for 21 points isn't all that surprising. When describing Stuckey, Chris Denari mentioned that he is similar in build and game to Joe Dumars. Quinn Buckner then agreed with exception that he felt Stuckey doesn't shoot it as well as Dumars. As accurate as QB's comment may have been, I had to laugh because at the time Stuckey was a perfect 6 of 6 from the field with four of those makes from 3-land. Stuckey's 21 points were a season high, but his effort from behind the arc stood out. Stuckey finished the night making 4 of 5 from three, yet up until playing the Pacers he had only made TWO threes all year. In fact, the most attempts he's had in any other game was two and that has only happened twice.
Villanueva is no stranger to 20-point scoring games for the Bucks. But his outburst from nowhere is notable because he came of the bench to score 24 points in the first half. There were some wild shots but those become beautiful when they fall through the net. He too found shots flowing from behind the arc, putting up a season high for makes and attempts (3-6) from three land.
The trend of red-hot role players goes way past unlucky and even past blaming it solely on poor defense. While defense may be the root of the problem, the players involved also bring a mind set with them that they know when they play the Pacers they'll have a chance to get theirs. So they're playing positive and the Pacers lack of resistance makes them comfortable. That's the deadly combination.
Most, if not all, NBA players are confident in their abilities. It always amazes me to watch individual workouts a couple of hours before game time in a near empty Fieldhouse and see player after player knocking down shot after shot. Compared to a game situation, they're at ease. Without the pressure and intensity of a game all of them can step out an shoot at an amazing percentage. It's like me on the couch, they're comfortable.
That's how Kapono, Stuckey and Villanueva played against the Pacers. They were comfortable with the ball in their hand and ready to make a play and really ready to jack up some threes. The Pacers defense struggled to defend them and since they expected that to be the case they stepped on the court ready to go with no worries. Heck, Kapono has done it before. I imagine at this point he'll make plans for his friends and family to start attending his games against the Pacers.
Mindset plays a big role with any scorer. If you think tonight's your night, it probably will be unless the opponent takes you out of your comfort zone and shuts you down. The Pacers can't seem to move these guys out of their comfort zone and until they find a way to do it, the frustrating trend will likely continue.
Hopefully, DeShawn Stevenson doesn't read this before the Pacers play the Wizards tonight.