Two minutes left in a tie game and a guard brings the ball up - the center sets a pick at the top of the court - they get the switch and the guard sprints to the rim as he tries to score.
Does this sound familiar?
It should since that’s the play Pacers head coach Nate McMillan has drawn up for almost every one of Indiana’s close games this season. He tries everything he can to get a slow center or forward switched on to Victor Oladipo and then trusts him to find a way to get a basket.
The thing is is that it almost always works.
The problem with calling the same play over and over again is that eventually, a smart coach will try to stop it. The playoffs are less than two weeks away and you can bet that all of the Pacers’ potential opponents are strategizing how to force the ball out of Oladipo’s hands.
It’s not that hard to do. Let’s throw it back to game one of the Pacers matchups against Cleveland last season. Lebron James double-teamed Paul George on the last play forcing him to pass to C.J. Miles. James even admitted after the game his strategy was to force anybody but George to score.
The Pacers will undoubtedly put the ball in Oladipo’s hands at the end of games, but what happens next is what could decide their playoff fate.
The first scenario to be prepared for is Oladipo refusing to pass the ball and force a tough contested shot. Oladipo will either hit the shot or Indiana could get lucky since the entirety of the defense will have been focusing on Oladipo. That would allow one of his teammates to get free under the basket.Thaddeus Young was able to do that against Denver earlier this year.
Young does an incredible job tracking the ball on bad shots. He was able to turn a terrible shot by Darren Collison into a game-clinching bucket.
But there is no way to design a play to get Young a putback shot; it’s all dumb luck. The best situation Indiana can hope for is a realization by Oladipo that Young or another center has positioning down low and can rebound his shot if it misses.
What’s more reliable would be to use Oladipo’s presence to force defenders into bad positions and trust another Pacer to come in clutch.
The obvious number two option for the Pacers is Myles Turner. Since his return from injury, he’s shooting 43 percent from three. He also seems to have a better awareness and confidence on pick n’ pop plays.
Turner is also the best candidate to have a mismatch among the Pacers’ potential first round matchups.
Indiana is likely to face Cleveland, Philadelphia or Washington. Those teams will either play Larry Nance or Kevin Love, Joel Embiid or Marcin Gortat at center. Each matchup should provide Turner with an advantage if he’s playing outside the post and faces up to hoop.
There have been signs that McMillan is willing to trust Turner with the ball late in the game if he has the favorable matchup like he did against Marcus Morris.
Other options can emerge if you go back to the initial sequence of Turner’s screen for Oladipo Oladipo can decide to use Turner’s action as a decoy and open up the rest of the floor.
The Turner screen can work simultaneously with another screen by Young to set up Indiana’s best three-point shooters: Collison (leads the ENTIRE league with a 45 percent three-point percentage) and Bojan Bogdanovic (40 percent) in the corner.
We finally saw Indiana run this play Sunday against the Miami Heat and it was executed perfectly.
The Pacers ran a similar play with Turner for Bogdanovic that made the defense, scramble setting Bogdanovic up in the corner after an extra pass from Cory Joseph.
The double screen is common in the league but it only touches the surface of what’s possible. A lot of NBA coaches save their best ideas for the postseason but some are concerned McMillan just isn’t creative enough to try something new in the playoffs.
McMillan is like the Dusty Baker of the NBA: he can get your team into the playoffs but doesn’t know how to change his gameplan once he’s there (this comparison is particularly scary for me as both a Reds and Pacers fan).
But if McMillan wants to change this perception of him he’ll have to come up with an end-of-game play that fans aren’t even thinking of.
Maybe it could involve something with Oladipo off the ball to get an open corner three.