The Pacers had days — if not weeks — to prepare for the dark clouds that were forecasted to gather around Victor Oladipo in the form of hedges and traps in Game 3, and they chose mostly to ignore the repeated severe weather warnings.
Per Synergy, the late-bloomer had a 21.7 percent turnover rate during the regular season when the defense committed to him in the pick-and-roll and an ominous 42.4 percent turnover rate when trapped. Those marks, in and of themselves, should’ve signaled the need for a more nuanced approach against double-coverage than doubling down on their scoring engine’s still-maturing ability to split screens or make predictable left-handed pocket passes to the roll-man.
But even if that siren was too faint to be heard and heeded, then Ty Lue’s stated intention to force the ball out of his hands along with Cleveland’s steady escalation from single coverage to soft doubles to hard shows ought to have put them on high-alert and motivated the creation of an anticipatory emergency response plan.
Instead, Indiana’s reaction in the first half when the Cavs sent two defenders to Oladipo was to get stagnant and make sloppy plays or routinely settle for resetting the offense while their first-time All-Star was held to five points on only six shot attempts to go with four turnovers.
But, then, halftime happened and the sun finally managed to peak through the clouds when they adjusted in these five ways.
They attacked 4-on-3’s and made the next play
Alright, so, this particular example actually occurred with under one minute to play in the second quarter, but it perfectly illustrates how they went about breaking down Cleveland’s defense after Oladipo made the initial pass to the middle of the floor out of the trap.
By immediately backing down Darren Collison’s man and appearing prepared to turn over his (gasp) left shoulder, Domantas Sabonis forced LeBron James to commit to him in the paint, which left Bojan Bogdanovic open in the weak side corner.
As Sabonis kept his dribble alive and pivoted to his strong hand, Kevin Love drifted to the baseline to cover Bogdanovic while Thaddeus Young cut behind the action to the rim.
They ran Oladipo off screens away from the ball
With Darren Collison handling the playmaking responsibilities on the first possession of the second half, Myles Turner set a pindown screen for Oladipo to catch the ball on the wing.
Because J.R. Smith ran directly into the pick while Kevin Love dropped to prepare to defend 2-on-1 as opposed to denying the pass, the first-time All-Star got a reprieve from the aggressive coverage as well as an open scoring opportunity.
They spread the floor and let Oladipo go to work
Rather than setting a high ball screen and sending a second defender to the ball like a moth to the flame, the Pacers were more willing to run isolation plays for their leading scorer at the top of the key with shooters on the wings and crashing big men in the deep corners.
With J.R. Smith stranded on an island, Oladipo’s driving finger roll layup demonstrated that his explosive closing speed oftentimes doesn’t need a pick to gain an advantage against Cleveland’s selection of on-ball defenders.
Special shout-out goes to LeBron here for not stepping in front of the ball, despite Thaddeus Young shooting 11-of-52 outside the paint since the All-Star break.
They caught the Cavs on their heels
By being more active and holding Cleveland to 12 points in the third quarter and 34 percent shooting in the half while causing four live ball turnovers, the Pacers gave themselves more opportunities for Oladipo to put pressure on the defense in transition before it could overload on him in the half-court.
They got major contributions from Bojan Bogdanovic
In addition to exploding for a game-high 30 points on 73 percent shooting and tying a franchise playoff record for three-pointers made in a game, the depth of the Croatian sharpshooter’s range was critical when the Cavs sent two defenders to Oladipo without a pick while contesting the nearest pass to the middle of the floor late in the fourth quarter.
With less than five seconds remaining on the shot clock, check out how far behind the 3-point line Bogdanovic was when he managed to salvage this possession.
The storm winds are likely to return in Game 4 on Sunday and Bogdanovic probably won’t go supernova again, but Game 3 showed the Pacers can stay afloat against Cleveland’s hard traps and slow reactions as long as they are aggressive when the defense is outnumbered and they continue to lean into the floor balance that got them this far.