The Pacers found a way to slow down Damian Lillard and Kemba Walker in their past two wins, despite their ability to wreak havoc with the ball in pick n' roll situations. After Lillard got loose early against the Pacers on Saturday, a halftime adjustment slowed down the Blazers guard and carried over to Monday as Myles Turner had a big defensive impact.
"We had to move our bigs up higher," Nate McMillan said of the halftime change against Portland. "We were in a drop defense which is basically trying to keep the ball from attacking the paint. They were just coming off screens and raising up and shooting threes. We made adjustments at halftime, we brought our bigs up, almost went into a trap but we had our bigs up higher to help our guards get through the screens. Our guys did a good job of getting up high and containing."
And by "our guys" McMillan means Turner. The 20-year-old big man has always been a good shot blocker but used to struggle avoiding fouls as teams attacked him before he could get off the floor. But his effort in the past two games showed a marked improvement in Turner's ability to defend the pick n' roll.
"I"m a lot more comfortable, making my reads a lot better, a lot earlier," Turner said when explaining his recent effort. He is able to guard high on the perimeter but also stay with a guard to defend the drive to the rim.
"It's a challenge," Turner said. "Not a lot of people can do it, but I'm up for that challenge and one thing I put an emphasis on."
To illustrate the difference in approach, here's a picture of Myles Turner in the first half against Portland, staying back against Damian Lillard to discourage the drive. As you can see, Lillard happily pulled up for an open three.
Fast forward to the second half. This is one of a few examples of Turner moving up to contest the perimter against Lillard. Notice where Lillard pulls up, a few feet behind the line, with Turner still there to contest and force a miss.
This plan remained in effect against Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Hornets. Not only did Turner stay up to contest the perimeter, but he was able to slide back and harass Walker when he tried to drive by the big to the rim. Here are two pictures from the same play.
Notice where Turner is when Walker dribbles off the screen. Then Turner stayed with the quick guard to deny his shot at the rim.
This was one of three blocks Turner had on Walker in the game. For the season Walker makes about 56% of his shots at the rim. Against the Pacers, he was just 3 of 11 (27%) as Turner kept him under control.
Turner's ability to guard high and still get back to defend the rim is something Al Jefferson just can't do and the reason McMillan adjusted against Portland to keep Turner on the floor whenever Lillard was running things.
This approach will be tested again in Miami with Goran Dragic. The Heat point guard has caused the Pacers plenty of problems in the past as the ball handler in pick n' roll. We'll see how Miami adjusts their attack after seeing the past two Pacers games and more importantly, how Turner and the Pacers counter that adjustment.