Second grade hoops practice had me watching the Pacers' game late last night, but that didn't make it any less enjoyable.
Six games into the season and the off-season changes are starting to show some results. As the players get more comfortable playing together we also get more comfortable watching because we've now seen the good and bad from the new players and the new team which makes it easier to determine whether a player has it or not on a certain night.
Personally, I'm trying to temper my enthusiasm for the defensive effort thus far, but it's hard when the results throw this right in your face: the defense is much better.
The Pacers are currently ranked 8th in the league in defensive efficiency. 8th! Hopes that the defense could just be average have been exceeded so far. There's nothing glaring to point to for the upgrade, but instead a lot of little things with players that know what their doing improving the team-defensive approach and on-ball pressure.
For instance, after the jump, consider the following "little" plays from the third quarter last night that weren't on the highlights nor easy to track in the box score but exemplify the different team on the court this year. Also, a few other thoughts from the win.
With 8:15 left in the third quarter, ball out of bounds on the right baseline under the Warriors bucket. Inbounds pass goes over the top to Anthony Morrow who has a step on Brandon Rush. At first it appears the left side of the lane is wide open for a drive to the bucket, but Dahntay Jones is aware of the situation and jumps in Morrow's path halting him while Rush quickly recovers. Just as quickly, Dahntay jumps back out to his man, Stephen Jackson who takes the pass from Morrow and begins his own drive to the hole. Before Jack gets too far, Dahntay rakes the ball off Jack's foot. Pacers ball.
Agreed, basic help-recover defense, no big deal. I simply point it out because last year that play would've been a dunk or more likely a two-shot trip to the line for Morrow.
A minute and a half later, Earl Watson closes out on Monta Ellis who has the ball on the wing. Watson keeps creeping in on Ellis and gets his hand on the ball before Ellis can make a move. Watson yanks the ball loose and starts going the other way before Mikki Moore essentially tackled him to stop the play. You want on-ball pressure, you got it, in fact, that was on-ball theft.
- The reason I love NBA basketball is because every possession holds the possibility to see something that makes me exclaim, "Oh, nice!" Subtle, smart plays excite me as much as a high-flying dunk. Two such plays were turned in by Luther Head, who once again impressed in limited minutes. Luther had two offensive plays early in the fourth quarter that were as smooth as they were beautiful. The first ended with a dime to Solo for a big dunk. The other play was a pump fake into an open jumper off the dribble. Splash. Nice, indeed.
- As Sean alluded to, the fourth quarter fade appeared to be in full effect midway through the final quarter as the Warriors cut the lead to nine. But the Pacers settled down, traded blows for a few possessions, and made some defensive plays, including and insane block by Dahntay Jones. All the while working the clock to their advantage. Finally when the lead slipped down to seven with three minutes to go, Danny Granger brought it home like the All-Star that he is, although not just with his offense. Granger also snared some big rebounds to close out a few defensive stops which preserved the W.
- Remember how glaring the free throw differential was in losses last season. Well, the Pacers held an advantage at the line against the Dubs for the third straight game. All wins. The Pacers have outscored their opponents by 27 points combined in the past three games.
- Rapid heart rate hasn't been a problem so far this year. Win or lose, the games have all had double-digits differentials, which means no games decided on the final possession. Midway through last season, any time the Pacers jumped out to a strong start, it was hard to enjoy because you knew it would still go down to the final seconds. You almost wanted the game to just jump to the last two minutes with a tied score. Hopefully the blood will be pumping furiously toward the end of the game against Boston on Saturday. If the Pacers can take the Celtics down to the last possession it will be a good night. Now if they win it will be a GREAT night, but showing up and competing for 48 minutes against the championship-caliber C's would make for a good night.