The adage that defense wins championships is something that resonates in all sports. When it comes to the NBA, such a philosophy might not always be the case, yet not having one will relegate a team to either mediocrity or worse. In the case of the Indiana Pacers, their early-season woes were directly tied to issues with the defensive side of the ledger.
In their first 10 games, Indiana held exactly one team under 100 points, a generally accepted litmus test for judging a defense from afar. In four of those games, they allowed 110 points, winning two of those games.
Until their November 14 home game against the Orlando Magic, the Pacers had yet to hold a team under 90 points. Making up for lost time, Indiana did more than that by coming away with an 88-69 victory, keeping a lid on the opposing basket in the fourth quarter by allowing just 12 points.
The opponent in question might cause some skeptics to dismiss the effort by the Pacers, considering that Orlando came into the game as the league’s lowest-scoring team at 95 points per game. Yet one look at the stat sheet shows that a little defense will go a long way in stopping any team.
Indiana led the game at the half by a 41-37 score, then ramped up their defense even further by limiting the Magic to just 27.5 percent shooting from the field. The 12 points allowed during the final quarter were courtesy of 20 percent shooting on the part of Orlando.
It’s especially ironic that such a performance came with Frank Vogel watching from his spot as head coach of the Magic. Vogel’s teams were grittier versions of more skilled teams that rely on hustle and aggressiveness more than collective talent.
That hadn't been the case prior to Monday's clash, considering that the Pacers were ranked as the third-worst team on defense. It appears some fire is one of the requirements to make it happen this year under new head coach Nate McMillan.
That spark on Monday came from Kevin Seraphin, who only played for 19 minutes. However, during his time on the hardwood, he was able to collect 10 rebounds, giving the team some aggressiveness in the paint. Those 19 minutes were in stark contrast to his previous seven appearances, in which he only reached double-digits in minutes once.
Broadening the scope of that aggressiveness needs to a goal of McMillan, who’s been tasked with implementing a more up-tempo offense. Having someone with the talent Paul George on the roster certainly helps in that area, with the superstar having won a spot on the All-Defensive team last year. However, he can’t do it alone.
Facing the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers last night, Indiana was able to minimize their strength of hitting three-pointers. Even Myles Turner did a nice job getting out to contest shots from Channing Frye, which was a big part of the defensive effort leading to a win.