Before we start, did everyone find the double meaning in the title? Good. The Pacers have stayed competitive in all four games, defending Derrick Rose and the Bulls about as well as they could have possibly hoped. To extend the series beyond tonight they're going to need to find some answers for their offensive struggles.
Throughout the series Tim Donahue, at Eight Points Nine Seconds, has been charting the Pacers' offensive success, or lack their of, looking at individual possession types. Here's some of what he found after four games:
Over the course of this series, the Pacers have managed only 103.6 points per 100. However, if you take out Game 1 — which featured a fluky Pacer shooting performance — that drops to 98.7.
Their half-court offense has been largely ineffective. The Pacers have scored 62 points on 50 plays in transition, or 1.24 PPP. In their 383 plays in the half court, they’ve managed on 0.84 PPP. If you remove the seldom-used Cuts and Screens that are the last remnants of their old motion offense, it drops to 0.77 PPP.
The Pacers have been competitive in this series — and remain alive — because of success at the defensive end. They are down 3-1, because they cannot consistently generate offense. Truth be told, if not for the relatively impressive job Danny Granger has done of stepping up his performance (22 ppg, 52.0% eFG%, 24.1 PER vs. regular season figures of 20.5, 48.7%, and 17.8), this series would have been comfortably won by Chicago, in spite of the Pacer defensive performance.
Trying to find something to add to Donahue's analysis, I decided to look at On Court/Off Court stats to see if I could identify some lineups or player combinations which have been effective against the Bulls' defense.
Roy Hibbert has been killing it. And by it, I mean of course, the Pacers' offense. The Pacers have used 51 different five-man units in their four playoff games. Only 16 of them have outscored the Bulls while on the floor together. Only 3 of those 16 feature Roy Hibbert. Taking that one step further, the Pacers have posted an Offensive Rating of 92.8 with Roy Hibbert on the floor. It jumps to 111.1 with either Foster or McRoberts at center.
The Bulls have outscored the Pacers 372-362 in the series. Over the 109 minutes Hibbert has played, the Bulls have outscored the Pacers 215-192. That means the Pacers' have actually outscored the Bulls 170-157 in the 83 minutes Hibbert has been on the bench. There are certainly other factors in play, and I don't like to point fingers, but that's a huge difference and Hibbert obviously has been part of the problem.
The Pacers are way past the point where they can afford to worry about hurt feelings. If Hibbert isn't clicking on offense early, Frank Vogel really should look at limiting his minutes.
Mike Dunleavy has quietly been very effective. He's played 53 minutes in four games. Over those minutes the Pacers have outscored the Bulls 117-88. The Bulls don't really have wings who attack off the dribble, which means Dunleavy's individual defensive deficiencies are largely moot. Paul George and Dahntay Jones need to continue to play big minutes, defending Derrick Rose. Danny Granger has been very effective offensively, particularly in the last two games. Still, Dunleavy has been an important cog when the Pacers' offense is working and they should try to find a way to get him on the floor for key minutes tonight.
The Pacers have posted an unimpressive Offensive Rating of 95.7 with Granger on the floor. However, if we take away the minutes he's played with Roy Hibbert, that number jumps to 110.0. Granger has to be effective for the Pacers to have a real shot tonight. That means early offense. That means transition opportunities. That may also mean putting him in the post. Less than 10% of the Pacers' offensive possessions have been used on post-ups. Granger seemed fairly effective in the post against a variety of defenders during the regular season. I can count on two hands the number of times I remember seeing Granger working in the post in the playoffs. If Frank Vogel is looking for a new wrinkle at the offensive end, this could be it.
The Pacers' second most used lineup in the series has been the Price - Jones - Dunleavy - McRoberts - Foster bench combination. Posting an Offensive Rating of 127.27 and a Defensive Rating of 81.82, it's also been one of their most effective units. They usually see minutes to start the 2nd Quarter and wrapping up the 3rd Quarter. They will have to make an impact tonight.
The Pacers' starting lineup has played 65 minutes together, no other unit has played more than 13. They've been great defensively, with a 98.3 rating. They've been horrible offensively, with a 95.0 rating. Whether it's Collison, Hansbrough, George or Hibbert, someone from this unit needs to step up and help Granger with the scoring load right off the bat.
The Pacers' have a chance, albeit a small one, to push the series to a sixth game. The formula of tough defense and anemic offense, particularly in clutch situations, which has gotten them this far, doesn't seem likely to get them over the hump. The team needs a scoring spark tonight. Without it, the lights may go down for good on the Pacers' season.