One of the biggest constants across Indiana's success this season has come from the Pacers' explosion immediately out of halftime, an almost nightly occasion that has seemed to erase any first half lethargy while helping to give Indiana enough fuel in the tank to make a push for the W. The end result has the Pacers sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference, sprinting out to a 21-12 record at the halfway point of the 2011-12 regular season, their best since 2003-04, the last time the Pacers reached the Eastern Conference Finals.
But while former players like Brandon Rush seemed to pass the eye test defensively, the numbers didn't support that value and Troy Murphy's numbers reflected a different player than fans saw on the floor. So for the Pacers, is their success early in the third quarter reflective of their success or is it entirely mental?
Well, just how big has the third quarter been to the Indiana Pacers first of all? From a pure win-loss angle, Indiana is 17-3 when they win the third quarter. Even more interesting is looking at those three losses when they win the third quarter: two have come following the team getting blown out against Miami and Atlanta in the first halves and the third at the hands of the Kings in the still perplexing fourth quarter meltdown. So when looking at the Pacers breaking out in the third quarter, what things are they doing well in the opening minutes as opposed to when they come out of a game with a win or a loss?
An interesting caveat to begin is just how the Pacers shoot the ball. Despite sitting at 23rd in the league in FG% at .429, in the first five minutes of the third quarter, the team, win or loss, is shooting .502, showing a wiser shot selection that is helped with better ball movement. The ability to hit the three point shot has helped the Pacers in wins, 18-37 on the year in victories, but just 5-14 in losses.
Hitting shots leads to scoring, where Indiana is +74 in points the first five minutes in wins, winning by an average of 3.5 points in those five minutes but sit at -17 in defeats. The Pacers are using second chances to get those early points, grabbing 33 offensive rebounds in wins but only 8 total in the 12 losses, showing there are definite offensive advantages to the Indiana Pacers in how here are definitely keys to success the Pacers can look at.
Frank Vogel's smash mouth philosophy helps the team to keep those second chances alive, but also help their defensive numbers. Not only are the Pacers +8 in turnovers in wins while -1 in losses, they rebound at a better rate defensively as well, helped along by stifling the opposing shooters, racking up 18 blocks in victories, while they've totaled just 3 in games they've fallen.
So with the evidence to support wins and losses, it should be no surprise they won just one of those quarters in their recent five game losing streak; the aforementioned loss in Atlanta. Even in their marquee wins against above .500 teams, it's been the third quarter that has helped the blue and gold, getting double digits wins in the third against Chicago, Orlando, and Atlanta with third quarter victories against the Lakers and Mavericks.
If the Pacers are going to find success in the second half the season and into the postseason, being the better team immediately out of the half will has shown to be a valuable part of their success. Whatever Vogel tells them, however many Rocky clips he shows them, it's working, and it will need to continue to work so long as the Pacers aren't going to be able to put away teams out of the gate the way Miami has in both games against the Pacers this year.