Down two with 12 seconds remaining in an overtime contest against the Washington Wizards, Roy Hibbert was supposed to set a backscreen for Chris Copeland to fade for a go-ahead three-pointer from the corner. Instead, Nene sagged off Hibbert in the paint, effectively cutting off Donald Sloan's pass to Indiana's sharpshooter.
The Result: Roy Hibbert, wide open, attempting a game winning shot 27-feet from the basket. Spoiler Alert: It did not end well.
Later, in Philadelphia, a similar result would occur. Down one with 9.2 seconds remaining, Watson hit West at the elbow. Using the the full-force of his punishing physicality, West attempted to back-down Luc Mbah a Moute before stepping-back for a fadeaway jumper. West came up short.
Frank Vogel, with his team trailing the Boston Celtics by three, called a timeout with exactly 2.0 seconds left in regulation. With both Paul George and George Hill sidelined, Solomon Hill was tasked with inbounding the ball to a fading Chris Copeland. Instead, Indiana's sophomore wing delivered the ball directly into the hands of Gerald Wallace. Thus, the game ended with a turnover. The Pacers never even got a look at the basket.
As these examples demonstrate, Indiana struggled mightily to close out opponents. On the season, Indiana had 48 games decided by five points or less in the final five minutes of regulation or overtime, posting a win-percentage of 47.9% in those situations. Compare that to the 2013-14 season, when, with Paul George at the helm, the Pacers posted the league's second-best win-percentage (70.1%) in close games, trailing only the San Antonio Spurs.
With Paul George and George Hill missing a combined 115 games, Indiana lacked someone who could create their own shot when plays, inevitably, broke down. The Pacers missed makeable shots. They struggled to break down opponent defenses. Getting the ball inbounds was a nightly challenge. Put simply, Indiana lacked an experienced finisher.
Below is a chart showing which of next year's Pacers are most efficient in the clutch (five minutes left in the fourth quarter or overtime with the score within five points), by plotting each member of the Blue & Gold's clutch-time true shooting percentage (a shooting percentage that is adjusted to include the value of three pointers and free throws) as well as his clutch-time usage percentage (the percentage of a team's offensive possessions that a player uses while on the court).
And here is a scatterplot illustrating which Pacers up their games most when the clock is winding down, by showing each player's clutch-time true shooting percentage as well as his overall true shooting percentage, minimum 15 clutch-time FGA. (Note: Paul George was included in this exercise even though he only appeared in six games last season and attempted only two clutch-time field goals.)
As opposed to last year's injury-riddled season, when the Pacers were trying to make defenses react to Sloan-Allen pick-and-rolls to closeout games, George Hill, newcomer Monta Ellis, and a healthy Paul George should present head coach Frank Vogel with a slew of formidable options in the clutch next season.
George Hill: All. Day. Long.
Once he recovered from a torn quadricep, the answer to the question of who should have the ball in their hands at the end of games in the absence of Paul George was simple: George Hill.
Though his true shooting percentage did drop ever-so-slightly during clutch-time last season (down 2.4%), the Indiana native was the only one of next season's Pacers (minus the team's three rookies) with a true shooting percentage over 55% in clutch-time and overall, as shown on the second chart. Making him an excellent option no matter what the clock says.
More than once, Frank Vogel has called Hill's number to run a Steve Nash-esque play at the end of games. West feigns a screen, Hill uses the open driving lane to dribble baseline, reads the defense, circles back and hits the jumper for the win:
Here, Hill uses the open driving lane to simply beat his opponent to the basket:
And sometimes, the Broad Ripple product needs no play calling, he wills the ball home:
Paul George: The Comeback Kid
Appearing in only six games and working to regain his timing and rhythm, no Pacer was utilized more during clutch-time when he was on the floor last season than Paul George. In fact, he was the only one of next season's Pacers with a clutch-time usage percentage higher than 40%, as the first chart indicates.
Why does Indiana rely so heavily on George? Because he rises to the occasion.
Granted, his clutch-time true shooting percentage (50.0%) was only eight tenths of a percentage point better than his overall true shooting percentage last season (49.2%), but he also only had two total clutch-time field goal attempts.
During the 2013-14 season, the two-time All-Star posted a plus-minus of +54 in clutch-time situations, good for 10th in the NBA (minimum 50 clutch-time field goal attempts).
For example, with less than 25 seconds remaining in the first overtime of a double overtime victory against the Washington Wizards, Paul George drained this game-tying jumper in only his fifth game back after missing the first 76 games of the season:
Monta Ellis: The Closer
Consider this: Monta Ellis (39.5%), used more clutch-time possessions for the Dallas Mavericks last season than Dirk Nowitzki (27.8%).
With Dallas leaning on him more heavily than any other Maverick, Ellis, more often than not, delivered, posting a true shooting percentage of 39.5%. On the season, Ellis scored 135 total clutch-time points, second only to James Harden. He also was +80 last season in clutch-time situations, fifth-best in the NBA.
It is for this reason that, even in games such as the Mavs' 92-86 loss to the Phoenix Suns where Ellis finished the night with only 11 points connecting on just 4-of-22 shot attempts, that head coach Rick Carlisle continued to call his number late in games.
Because the volume scorer had proven himself capable, time and time again, of playing the role of hero, whether it meant making buzzer-beating plays in Milwaukee or calmly knocking down three game-tying free throws in Chicago:
So who should the Indiana Pacers want with the ball in their hands when the game is on the line next season?
The fact that this is even a question means that the Blue & Gold should have no problem keeping opponent defenses guessing next season, making the late-game turnovers, last-ditch long twos, and broken plays of last season in the absence of a creator a distant memory of things past, hopefully.