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The Pacers and Missing Points in the Paint

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Contested shots around the basket are an easy way to cheap your team out of two points.
Contested shots around the basket are an easy way to cheap your team out of two points.

One of the biggest issues for the Pacers recently, especially in their last three losses (though hardly limited to), has been the ability to finish inside. It’s been fundamentally disastrous, and quite frankly, a little difficult to watch considering the level of difficulty tends to drop the closer one gets to the basket.

After the loss to Golden State, Clark Kellogg was quick to point out that when the Pacers pushed the game into double figures in the second quarter, it was the team’s inability to finish around the rim from there on that allowed the Warriors to open up run after run that eventually led to the road loss. There were multiple instances where the Pacers had golden opportunities to push the game to 17, 18, dare I say 19 points, but miscues and bad moves at the basket really hindered the team’s chances as Monta Ellis sank the dagger at the end.

Despite the poor play of late, the Pacers are somehow still among the top 5 in shots within ten feet, but that drops all the way to 27th in the league when it comes to shots at the rim. The Pacers shoot just 59.8% at the rim, frighteningly low for a shot the most offensively challenged player can make, and it comes with a plethora of visible concerns and excuses. After all, Roy Hibbert’s best shot at getting a basket isn’t to lean forward and throw it at the hoop, but he’s been one of the league leaders in back irons over the past six weeks.

Beyond Hibbert, guys seem to be anticipating contact or fouls that aren’t there. Brandon Rush and T.J. Ford have each missed wide open layups in these games when they altered their shots, looking for and-ones before contact was even made. Tack on some untimely blocks, guys throwing the ball at the basket while being double- or triple-teamed, and failing to just slam the basketball and settling for a soft layup that rollllsss around and off the rim have led to a particular rough stretch where the team has shot just 47.2% close to the basket.

A particular exchange between Danny Granger and Jeff Foster in Wednesday’s loss saw the pair pad their offensive rebound numbers as each threw it over the basket to the other before a whistle was finally called. It seems this is something of a microcosm, a kind of arrogant way of thinking that shuns the use of the backboard around the rim when it’s the easiest way to get two points. I know use of the backboard is kind of like having a crush on a distant cousin, but Blake Griffin abused the backboard in his 19-24 display against Indiana. No one’s talking about how uncool he was for his reliance on the bank shot.

It pays to be fundamentally sound, especially when you’re taking high percentage shots. Boston and Orlando lead the league in shots at the rim, and New Jersey, Milwaukee, and Cleveland sit just behind Indiana. It’s not a black and white difference maker between wins and losses, but each time you fail to convert easy shots, the harder it’s going to be to walk away with the win. And for a team like the Pacers, who are already seen as underachievers, it seems that simply improving the play around the rim would go a long way in making that record less of a disappointment.

After all, they shot 67% at the rim in those oh-so-distant wins against the Lakers and Heat. That hardly makes the outcome a fluke.