Numeric Narratives: What A Night The People Saw

The Pacers' regular season wrapped up last night with a 94-72 loss at Orlando. For the first time since 2006, game number 82 doesn't represent the end of the Pacers' season. On Saturday, their first round series against the Bulls will begin, on the road in Chicago. The Pacers' have a lot to do before Saturday. They were thoroughly thumped in three of their four games against the Bulls this season. Solutions need to be sought, and adjustments made. 

Anyone who thinks the Pacers "solved" the Chicago Bulls in their 115-108 victory a month ago is sorely mistaken. They gave up 42 points to Derrick Rose, lost a 16 point lead over the course of the 4th quarter, and won the game without Carlos Boozer taking the floor for the Bulls. Today we'll look at some areas where the Pacers' struggled in their four games against Chicago, and what changes they might be able to make to keep themselves competitive.

Starting at the general level, the table below shows the Pacers' numbers for the Four Factors across their games against the Bulls this season.

Pacers' Four Factors vs. the Bulls

 

Rating

eFG%

TOV%

ORB%

FTA/FGA

Offensive

97.8

41.3%

10.1%

26.6%

0.280

Defensive

110.1

49.2%

9.6%

25.8%

0.312

There was a huge chasm in the team's ratings, with the Pacers getting outscored by 12.3 points per 100 possessions. The Turnover Rates, Offensive Rebound Rates and Free Throw Rates were fairly similar, at least close enough that we can say confidently they wouldn't account for that 12.3 point difference. What separated the two teams seems to be simply that the Bulls made shots, and the Pacers did not. We can look at this problem from both offensive and defensive perspectives.

Offense 

Against the Bulls this season, the Pacers shot 30.2% on long two-pointers. That's an atrocious percentage, but even more troubling is the fact that 96 of their 350 shots, or 27.4%, came from that area. That's an increase over the entire season, where 25.4% of their shots came from that area. Give the Bulls' defense plenty of credit for forcing the Pacers into that pattern, but they can't hope to be effective against a top-notch defense by taking more of their shots from inefficient areas of the floor. To break that pattern the Pacers have to get, and make, quality shots from other areas of the floor.

The Pacers made 23 of 74, or 31.1%, of their three-pointers against the Bulls this season. Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy and Darren Collison were actually quite successful, combining to make 14 of 33, or 42.4%. The bench mob of Paul George, A.J. Price, Brandon Rush, and Dahntay Jones combined to make 4 of 21, or 19.0%. The Pacers are going to need much bigger offensive contributions from their supporting cast.

The other area of concern is at the rim. The Pacers made exactly 58 of 100, or 58%, of their shots at the rim against the Bulls this season. That's well below the league average of 64.0%. It's also well below the 61.7% mark the Bulls allowed their opponents to shoot across the entire season. The Pacers had no problem getting shots on the interior against the Bulls this season, they just couldn't make them.

The Bulls defense is among the league's best, and will force the Pacers into plenty of mistakes. That's why it will be so important for the Pacers to avoid helping them out. They simply can't afford to settle for bad shots if they aren't absolutely forced into them. They can't afford to get careless with the basketball. A turnover here, a long contested two-pointer there, can quickly turn a close game into a blowout. The Pacers will have a very slim margin for error at the offensive end. To keep the series competitive they'll need to have a lot of things break their way. Maximizing each offensive possession, by avoiding turnovers, and exercising patience and shot selection will help set the table for success.

Defense

Any defensive preparations the Pacers make for the Bulls will start with Derrick Rose. Rose is the center of the Bulls offense, using 32.3% of their possessions when he was on the floor, the second highest Usage Rate in the league. Rose was responsible for 108 of the 409 points the Bulls scored against the Pacers this year, or 26.7%. Rose scored those 108 points at a rate of 1.05 points per possession. The rest of the Bulls players combined to score against the Pacers at a rate of 1.10 points per possession. Both of those numbers need to be improved on for the Pacers' to stay competitive, but they may not have the luxury of being able to impact both. It may sound like sacrilege, but I think stopping everyone else is a much bigger concern for the Pacers.

I put together a spreadsheet, removing Rose's contributions and calculating the points per possession produced by the rest of the Bulls in each game. In their 60 wins, the Bulls, other than Rose, have scored 0.95 points per possession. In their 20 losses, the Bulls, other than Rose, have scored 0.89 points per possession. I don't mean to demean the Pacers' defensive abilities, but if Rose is determined to score 35 points there is very little the Pacers, or anyone else can do to stop him. Obviously, the Pacers will want to slow Rose down, making him use as many possessions and shots as possible to reach his enormous point totals. Still, the key to stopping the Bulls offense as a whole seems to be taking away the easy opportunities for Rose's teammates.

In their three wins over the Pacers the Bulls made 21 of 55 three-pointers, or 38.1%. In the Pacers' lone win, the Bulls made 6 of 27, or 22.2%. They can't give up open jumpshots to Luol Deng, Kyle Korver, Keith Bogans and C.J. Watson. Carlos Boozer only played in three of the games against the Pacers' this season, but averaged 20 points on 51.9% shooting. Luol Deng played in all four games, averaging 18.0 points. He scored those 18 points on just 42.6% shooting, but made 38.1% of his three pointers, much higher than his season average. If those two are providing similar contributions the Pacers are going to have a hard time holding the Bulls to a manageable point total.

One adjustment Frank Vogel could look at, is putting someone other than Collison or Price on Rose. Depending on the situation I would have George, Rush or Jones covering him. All three could bother him with their length, while still having the quickness to try and keep Rose in front of them. Collison or Price covering Bogans or Ronnie Brewer seems like a fair trade-off for having a longer defender on Rose. At worst it encourages Bogans or Brewer to try and do a little too much on offense.

Whoever the player guarding Rose is should be on an island, expected to do his best to guard Rose one-on-one.  Everyone else would need to stay home on their man and crash the defensive glass. Granger needs to win his matchup with Deng. Foster, McRoberts and Hansbrough need to be extremely physical with Boozer, not letting him establish position down low. In terms of pick-and-roll defense, keeping Boozer and Taj Gibson from getting open 18 footers would be my primary goal. I don't think it's a coincidence that the only game the Pacers' won against the Bulls this season, came with Rose scoring 42 points (442 points by some accounts). If Rose is dominating the ball they have a chance, albeit a small one. If the Bulls' offense is balanced AND scoring efficiently then the Pacers' are dead in the water.

I'm trying to keep my expectations reasonable for this series. As much as I'd like to let my imagination run wild with scenarios of upsets and Davidian triumphs, I know that the inconsistent Pacers' team I watched all-season, will be facing the best team in the East; a team which beat them soundly three times this season and is playing with all the confidence and swagger in the world. I've tried to adjust my definition of success for this series accordingly:

  • I'd like to see the Pacers' win at least one game, preferrably in front of a loud sell-out home crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse.
  • I'd like to see the Pacers make every game a 48 minute competition.
  • I'd like to see the team maintain a high-level of energy, effort and aggressiveness; regardless of the score or situation.
  • I'd like to see the Pacers' leave this series with more confidence then they enter with.

In short, I'd like to see a roster who truly believes that they earned this playoff berth and that they belong, a team which can make the organization's first playoff experience since 2006 a postive, motivational, learning experience; win or lose. Even that modified set of goals is not a given. The Pacers have a tremendous challenge ahead of them, but it also represents a tremendous opportunity.

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