It’s about erring on the side of caution. Any sense of positivity regarding the Indiana Pacers chances against the Chicago Bulls in the teams’ first round playoff match is going to be misconstrued. But should it be? After all, no one’s watched the Pacers more than those who follow the Pacers, but power packing knowledge of how the team can win can be misguided as sheer homerism when offering rebuttals against the normal 4-5 game series predictions floating about and bubbling under prior to the meeting.
But can you blame everyone for thinking any chances the Pacers have is somewhat delusional, even if most people have watched maybe five Pacers games top all year? Indiana is 37-45, finishing with the same record as the 2007-08 Atlanta Hawks, who went into their postseason match with the heavily favored Celtics. To put into perspective, the Pacers will be given a better chance than the Hawks were, and the Pacers will be expected to be done in 4-5 games. But Atlanta took it to 7, and it wasn’t until afterwards that we saw the advantages Atlanta had against the Celtics.
Though, even optimistically, it’s not like the Pacers have those types of advantages, especially against the Bulls. The Hawks have proven to be potent in their built-in matchup advantages; they went on to sweep the Celtics in the season series the following season, but against Chicago, the Pacers don’t get to reap those internal advantages much in the same way they would have against say Miami.
Even Indiana’s biggest advantage will have to overcome Chicago’s biggest strength. But if Indiana is going to have a chance to pull what some are already calling "the biggest upset ever" (which doesn’t seem entirely accurate…) they’ll need to beat Chicago’s defense by hitting shots; lots and lots of shots.
It’s pretty rudimentary, even a bit of a tall order, but one of the biggest advantages Indiana has is to simply hit shots; lots and lots of shots.
Actually, that’s how Indiana won their only game against Chicago. Despite a career high game from Derrick Rose and all that was made of his effort that night, Rose couldn’t get enough from anyone else to keep pace with a Pacers offense hitting on all cylinders; this despite Indiana only shooting 43% for the night. Sure, it may have been sans Carlos Boozer, but the Bulls have dropped a majority of their games teams that can push the tempo and score a lot of points.
The Bulls have built themselves into a great defensive team in part because they haven’t shown the ability to win shootouts. The team is 11-18 when they allow opponents to score 96 points or more. That drops to 7-16 at 97 and more. While it’s no surprise a 60-win team would tack on most of their losses when allowing near or over the century mark, the Bulls are especially awful in this case. Their 7-16 record when allowing 97 points or more is the worst record for a 60-win team since the 2005-06 San Antonio Spurs went 3-11. In fact, none of the nine teams since (including the 2006 Pistons) have been below .500 when allowing 97 points and the nine teams have won at a 62.6% rate on average. The Spurs needed six games to dispose of the 8th seeded Kings, and were eliminated in the second round.
While Danny Granger has gotten a lot of flak for mentioning the need to slow down Derrick Rose, he’s not entirely wrong. Sure the case can and has been made that no one has all season so we should laugh at Granger, but limiting Rose limits their effectiveness to score points, which are a premium for the team should the opposing team pile on points as the Pacers did in their sole win. Ian broke down a solid blueprint for the offense to get better shots and limit mistakes to help limit Chicago advantages, and that all goes hand in hand with pushing the tempo and attacking the Chicago defense. If Indiana hits shots, they can and will beat any team in the NBA.
The problem is they’re just a bit too streaky. But since coming off of that almost season killing 6-game losing streak at the beginning of March, the Pacers closed out the year (sans the game in Orlando) 10-6, averaging 103.4 PPG overall, a staggering 111.0 in wins, and went 9-1 when scoring 100 points (mental mistakes from being 10-0). The Jekyll and Hyde nature of the team did rear its ugly head, however, averaging just 90.7 in the six losses.
The return of Mike Dunleavy has already helped the flow of the offense, and if he can hit shots coming off screens at a high rate, Indiana can pile on points. Even despite the positives that can come from a smooth offensive game, points will remain a premium because they still have to execute these things against the league’s best defense. A streaky offense vs. a confident and lock down defense doesn’t paint the brightest picture for the Pacers, but any chance they have is going to be pushing the tempo and creating extra possessions. Indiana can score at a high rate; they just need to maximize their opportunities to do so while not giving up any to the Bulls.
Just for the record, the Pacers went 7-5 in games where they allowed 97 points or more in that stretch. And here they say the Bulls are better than the Pacers at everything…