I'm enjoying writing this piece a little later than normal, because I actually had the opportunity to witness the game in person this evening.
Bankers Life Fieldhouse held "College Night" Wednesday night, and being a Ball State student, I was able to get in to see the game for the low price of $10. Sure, we were up in the rafters. However, for a sports fan like myself, as long as I am in the arena, I've got a smile on my face. I also got to meet and chat with my editor, Tom Lewis. So, though the Pacers let this one get away from them, there was a lot of pros that came from the night.
But enough about me, let's get to the highlights and lowlights.
I know what you're thinking. "Daniel, defense is what lost us the game!" I realize that. However, with the exception of Kevin Garnett, the Pacers were fantastic on defense, as we've become accustomed to seeing. Kevin Garnett was 7-10 from the floor tonight, while the rest of the Celtics were a combined 27-73.
With the obvious exception of the final play, the Pacers did a wonderful job of forcing the Celtics to look for guys like Jason Terry, Avery Bradley and Paul Pierce on the perimeter, and for a while, it looked as though anyone not named Kevin Garnett was semi-afraid to take the rock to the hoop. Even Garnett, for a short period of time, was having to settle for 18-footers. Granted, those are a strength of his, but it's better that he be shooting those than having his way driving to the basket.
Every Pacers starter scored in double digits Wednesday night. For a team that's been testing out a variety of different lineups, it was surprising, to say the least, to see the Pacers moving the ball around so effectively.
With Granger hovering in and out of the lineup, Indiana has been relying on Paul George and David West to score the majority of the teams points, which means they're taking the majority of the teams shots. Those two players are incredibly good at what they do, however, NBA defenses are going to be able to sniff that out easily. The Pacers have been longing for some mystery to their offense. Something that is going to put opposing defenses on their heels.
Distributing the ball, somewhat evenly, among all five starters, is a great place to begin.
On paper, Lance had an "eh" night. 6-15 shooting to go along with two assists and five steals.
However, watching him play, I thought he was phenomenal. He was an absolute nuisance away from the ball, and he caused the Celtics all kinds of trouble on the defensive side of things (five steals). For someone who was expecting to come off the bench this season, Lance has done wonders for the Pacers. He brings a fire to this team that I don't think it's had since the days of Reggie Miller.
When things are cooking for him on the floor, the entire arena can feel it, and it fuels his squad like none other.
Midway through the third quarter, Lance received a pass from David West while driving to the hoop and slammed in down like it would be the last time he'd ever be able to do it. The entire arena went berserk, and it provided his team with an energy that would have been fantastic, had it lasted just 20 seconds longer. Admittedly, I have been a critic of Lance's for a loooong time. However, I will give credit where credit is due, and Lance played his butt off tonight. He's most definitely a guy I am keeping my eye on in the weeks to come.
The Pacers, collectively, took 27 three-pointers against Boston, which is, hands down, way too many. I would not call Boston's defense stingy, in any way, and Indy too easily settled for a contested deep two or a three pointer. Whether it was due to the avoidance of a shot-clock violation or a false sense of confidence, the Pacers were often found settling for low percentage shots when Hibbert or West was posting up in the paint with their hands outstretched.
Being a bit more specific, Paul George, George Hill and David West shot a combined 15-43 tonight. Paul George and George hill came together to shoot 5-16 from three point land.
Now, there are a plethora of things we can blame this on. However, the answer is right in front of you. Guys are just settling for shots. Roy Hibbert was 6-13 tonight and, to be honest, he didn't get near as many looks as he should've. Hibbert was cooking in the first quarter. He was the Pacers' primary option on offense. He was snagging rebounds and putting up second chance points like it wasn't something he'd been struggling to do all season long.
Then, the first quarter ended and, for some reason, the entire identity of the offense changed. Hibbert continued to post up down low. However, his teammates weren't hitting him. Instead, they were settling for contested three's and 18-footers. This took a toll on the rebounding as well. Hibbert nearly had a double-double in the first quarter alone, however, when he wasn't getting the rock under the basket, he began to get lazy rebounding the ball. This resulted in a plethora of turnovers, and points in transition for the Celtics.
Mid Range Defense
If Kevin Garnett wasn't one of the older players in the league and played 40-45 minutes tonight, I have no doubt in my mind that this game would not have been close. All night long, Garnett was finding opportunities in the 15-20 foot range off of pick and rolls and screens of all sorts. More times than one would have liked, Hibbert and West were caught in the paint off of a high pick and roll which left a wide open Kevin Garnett, who ended up shooting 7-10. As a team, Boston shot 50% from the midrange/elbow area.
The biggest concern, to me, was how many times the Celtics were able to find success running that same little sequence. You can understand them being able to do it once or twice, then you'd be looking for Hibbert and West to make adjustments. When someone sets a screen on you while you're defending Kevin Garnett, stay on him. Don't relax back into the paint looking for him to drive to the hoop. Garnett scored off of that sequence four times in the first quarter, before he sat on the bench for the majority of the second quarter.
Adjustments. That's what you want to see in those situations, and that's what we didn't see tonight.
A few small things: Paul George has been struggling a bit lately. He seems tense. No doubt, it's getting to the point in the season where every game matters and the Pacers are in a place where they could possibly contend for the Eastern Conference's top seed. Albeit, it's not likely, but it's not impossible. With Granger fluctuating in an out of the lineup, it has probably been hard for George to stay on top of his game, considering he is never 100% sure who he's going to have out on the floor with him.
Naturally, all great players hit skids, and it'd be much more preferable for him to be going through one now than a few months down the road. There are a number of people concerned about whatever is happening with George, however, I'm not one of them. At 22, George is able to show remarkable resiliency, and the ability to adjust extremely fast. Plus, the Pacers have sort of a "practice" game, if you will, against the struggling Magic before taking on the first place Heat.