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Pacers have trouble defending point guards on west coast swing

While on a road trip, the best defense in the league may have shown a weakness, defending the speedy point guards of the Western Conference.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Steph Curry went for 24, Goran Dragic 21 and Isaiah Thomas 38. All point guards dribbling and shooting through Indiana’s vaunted defense. The Pacers struggled particularly defending these quick point guards on the pick-and-roll.

BBALL BREAKDOWN took a good look at the Suns dismantling of the Pacers below.

Against Curry pick-and-rolls, Indiana sagged their big man into the lane. This gave Curry open jumpers as he came off the screen and George Hill fought over the top. But the jumpers Curry took were long two pointers, and although he had a few uncontested shots early, long twos are decent shots to allow Steph Curry to take.

The Pacers decided to start blitzing Curry to get the ball out of hands. This resulted in four-on-three opportunities for Golden State. The Warriors roll man – mostly Bogut or Lee – were able to get some open shots, but the Warriors didn’t try to make the Warriors work by passing around during the brief four-on-three for an open three.

Against Sacramento, Thomas had success getting in the lane with his quickness and pulling up to shoot floaters before the Indy defense could block the shot.

As they did against Curry, the Pacers decided to blitz Thomas more as the game went on. This led to more passing from Thomas and lots of missed shots from his teammates. The Kings shot 2 of 11 when Thomas passed out of a pick-and-roll.

When Indiana started to make its comeback, they were shutting down the Thomas pick-and-roll. In the second half, the Kings had a stretch – not consecutive possessions – of 11 pick-and-rolls. They shot 0 of 9, with their only two points coming from the free throw line.

So if you look at the numbers how bad was Indiana torched by these guards on the pick-and-roll? As was presented in the video above, Dragic and the Suns were unbelievable.

On Dragic pick-and-rolls the Suns scored 1.57 points per possession. They used it just 14 times, but shot 8 of 10 from the field and got to the free throw line on two possessions. The Suns season efficiency on Dragic pick-and-rolls is 1.09.

Dragic did most of the work. When he kept the ball, the Suns scored 1.91 points per possession; his season efficiency when keeping the ball on a pick-and-roll is .97. He essentially doubled his efficiency against the Pacers.

So Dragic and the Suns annihilated Indiana on the pick-and-roll.

But the Pacers ended up holding Curry and the Warriors below their average.  For the season, Curry pick-and-rolls have been worth .99 points per possession, but Indiana limited the Warriors to .84 points per possession on Curry’s 32 pick-and-rolls.

Even better, when Curry kept the ball, he scored just .76 points per possession –he averages .90. Curry shot really well on those long twos, as he was 5 of 7 inside the arc. But he was 0 of 5 on threes out of the pick-and-roll.

And against the Kings with Isaiah Thomas, the Pacers were most successful when they forced the ball out of Thomas’ hands.

When he kept it, he scored .96 points per possession, well above his average of .87. Like Curry he struggled shooting from three, 1 of 5, but was superb inside the arc, 9 of 16. But his teammates scored just four points on the 11 possessions that he passed. The Kings ran 35 Thomas pick-and-rolls in their overtime loss to the Pacers.

Thomas was so good that Frank Vogel moved Paul George onto him, which led to George's game-sealing rip on Thomas' dribble.

Two themes standout. First, Indiana struggles when the player running the pick-and-roll is able to get off free and take open jumpers like Curry or attack the lane Thomas.

Second, forcing the ball to move to the second and third options off of the pick-and-roll was effective. Only the Warriors were better when the ball handler passed, and that may be attributed to Curry’s 0-fer from beyond the arc.

Also, Indiana went 2-1 in these games, and the loss to Phoenix wasn’t because of 21 Goran Dragic pick-and-rolls.

But more importantly, Miami doesn’t use a lightning-quick point guard to get open looks. The Pacers weren’t constructed to shut down small point guards. They were built to beat the Heat.

That’s why Indiana has acquired as many bodies as possible to defend LeBron James – even if just as a stopgap for three minutes. From the stars of Paul George, Lance Stephenson and Danny Granger to the backups of Rasual Butler, Chris Copeland (ok, maybe he’s just for shooting), and Solomon Hill, they are all potential bodies to throw at LeBron.

It is why the Pacers centers are rim protectors first. Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi aren’t going to be utilized to stop point guards zooming past them – and they are the reason these guards pull up rather than attack all the way to the basket.

Miami is the focus, not the teams they play on their west coast swing. But if the Pacers do overtake the champs in the East, they might have to alter a tiny part of the defense, pending the matchup.

Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports