Pacers turn up defense to win game four

Kevin C. Cox

The Atlanta Hawks had eight possessions over the last 3:30 of game four. The Pacers defense forced three turnovers and 0-for-4 shooting and only allowed three points from Kyle Korver free throws. The return to dominant defense, combined with just enough offense, saw Indiana overcome a four point deficit with under four minutes remaining to even the series at 2-2.

The Atlanta Hawks have been a mismatch for the broken Indiana Pacers. The offensive strengths of Atlanta have forced Frank Vogel to adjust his lineup, something he rarely does. But it was necessary due to Atlanta’s 101.1 offensive rating through three games.

"It’s so tough to guard them. They spread the floor and have phenomenal shooters," Paul George said after game four. "We just gotta stay dialed in."

Over the last eight Atlanta possessions, the Pacers defense was dialed in. It was a return to the dominance that saw Indiana post the best defensive rating in NBA at 96.7. Rather than allow more than a point per possession – or even .967 – the Pacers held the Hawks to .38 points per possession in the final 3:30.

It started with defending the dreaded pick and pop of Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap.

The Hawks have shooters dotting the three point line to eliminate help defense. So George and David West have to handle the pick and roll alone, and they looked like the Indiana of old. Teague was forced into a long two.

That’s always been the design of the Pacer defense, force teams into less efficient mid-range jumpers. Some quick point guards have given the Pacer pick-and-roll defense issues. So combine Teague’s quickness with the screener’s ability to shoot threes, and Indiana’s scheme is rendered useless.

So the Pacers essentially switch the screen, and West does a tremendous job on Teague.

Two possessions later the Hawks went to an isolated side pick and roll, but Teague goes away from the screen, which has given Indiana problems throughout the series.

George does a tremendous job defending the quick point guard, and Teague ultimately slips and turns the ball over.

The next time down, the Hawks looked to get Millsap in an isolated post up against West.

West_steal_medium

Look how far West has forced Millsap out. West used his strength to get Millsap out of position, and then finesse to tap the pass away that George ended up grabbing. Turnover Atlanta.

Then the Pacer defense got dialed in.

George and West have to defend three Teague/Millsap pick and rolls. And they do a tremendous job throughout the possession. Then as the shot clock is winding down, the Pacers start to rotate.

Luis Scola steps up to help on Millsap. As Millsap is looking to find Scola’s man, Pero Antic, Lance Stephenson starts to rotate to Antic.

Stephenson abandons his man, who is now open near the basket, but even if Antic caught the pass, he wouldn’t have had time to make another pass. Although an offensive rebound may have been an issue.

On that first pick and roll, the Hawks show an underrated aspect of their pick-and-roll game. Before Millsap sets the ball screen, Korver screens Millsap’s man, David West.

Korver_screen_medium

This causes problems for Indiana because it takes West out of position to defend the pick and roll with Millsap and Teague. Plus George Hill, who is guarding Korver, can’t afford supply supplemental help for the pick and roll because Korver is popping to the three point line after screening. Any Hill help would lead to an open Korver three.

But the David West defensive display wasn’t over yet. Down by three with under 15 seconds left, the Hawks went for two.

Millsap_vs_west_medium

Millsap vs West again. And again, West won. Millsap made a quality spin move, but West stayed with him and forced a fallaway shot.

And on the Hawks final possession, Hill and Scola were called upon to defend a Korver/Antic screen.

On the second screen, Hill and Scola switch. The ball goes to Antic, and even though Hill doesn’t jump, he still contests and forces the awkward shot. Indiana wins.

"We’re a half-court defense team," Paul George said after the game. "We take pride in guarding guys in the half court."

That pride was finally restored in the closing minutes of game four.

Two of those eight possessions were flawed. Korver was fouled on a corner three that allowed the Hawks to score three points. Aslo, Mike Scott got this open three.

Open_3_medium

Ultimately, Indiana’s defense dominated down the stretch, and the Pacers earned a road split.

On a personnel note, Roy Hibbert was not in the game during these sequences. The Pacers are better suited to defend Atlanta’s spread sans Hibbert.

But hopefully the Hibbert hate has subsided. He was the most animated Pacer on the bench during the Pacers' comeback. Hibbert is one of the better personalities for Indiana. Just two months and one playoff series of struggles shouldn’t warrant as much disgust as Hibbert has received.

But on the court, the Pacers are better off without him, and Hibbert embraced his role as bench player and vocal leader on Saturday.

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