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A conversation about the Pacers’ home-and-home with the Pistons

Seeding is on the line for both teams when they play each other twice in three days.

Original images via (left to right): Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports; Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports; Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports; Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports.

The Pacers are set to play a home-and-home against the Pistons with playoff implications on the line for both teams, so we invited over Lazarus Jackson and Mike Snyder from Detroit Bad Boys to chop it up about the match-up and look back at why things got testy in the last meeting.

Here is that conversation.

Caitlin: I am who I am, so I’m kicking this thing off with a nerdy X’s and O’s question: How do you game-plan against empty-corner pick-and-roll for Andre Drummond, willing passer? Generally speaking, rather than relying on one of three strong side defenders to crowd the ball, Myles Turner has a tendency to give a little too much help on the initial ball-screen at the expense of the roll-man.

As a result, and without a weakside tagger, stuff like this happens:

That being said, helping off shooters to stunt toward middle penetration isn’t exactly an easy split-second decision with Luke Kennard, Wayne Ellington, and Blake Griffin dotting the perimeter and throwing fire like they did in the last meeting, right?

Laz: If Myles is going to help too far on the ballhandler, when he recovers late it has to be arms up, with the intent of making Andre put the ball on the ground. In that Thomas Bryant clip, Myles pauses to let Bryant rhythm dribble into a dunk - if you don’t pause and challenge Andre after the catch, even from the side, you can throw him off enough to make him miss:

Alternatively, if Myles over-helps and there IS a weakside tagger, that guy has to actually body up Andre. Here, Kevin Durant (smartly?) helps off of Thon Maker, but doesn’t actually do anything to prevent Andre from getting all the way to the rim for the putback:

If that’s Thad Young or Domantas Sabonis, and they actually put a body on Dre (Sabonis especially), you can keep him from ... some ... offensive rebounds. Sometimes you can’t keep him off the offensive glass, because Dre’s a big strong dude.

The Pistons’ lineups also gives you places to help off of. Whoever’s guarding Bruce Brown can help off of him. Thon Maker’s big can help seal too, and if Thon makes threes you kinda just have to live with it.

Caitlin: Hehe -- I think we can all agree without pulling out an iPad (sorry, I had to) that this is an example of Thad taking that note on bumping Andre from his spot on the roll a little too much to heart:

To your other point, Tyreke made a really nice play here cutting across the lane to cover for Sabonis, but he also got bailed out by Ish Smith and Langston Galloway making it easy for Cory Joseph to defend two players at once.

If the spacing was a little less wonky on that possession, is that a pass (whether to the corner or the dunker’s spot) that Drummond actively looks for?

Mike: Drummond is certainly a willing passer to the corner(s) and dunker’s spot off the short roll, but he’s far from consistent at making the correct decision 19-feet away from the hoop. In fact, if I’m Nate McMillan, my number one goal in defending the PNR (empty-corner or otherwise) is to keep him away from the rim by aggressively upping the number of far-from-the-basket Drummond decision making possessions.

To do this, I’m showing hard with Drummond’s check (Turner or Sabonis, I’d assume), making sure the on-ball defender forces the ball-handler to use the screen, and committing to a full underneath rotation.

As Laz points out, this is also made easier when Bruce Brown is on the court. Using Caitlin’s first empty-corner example: I’d have Tyreke Evans (Brown’s check) in the middle of the paint utilizing the two-nine rule, hard show and recover from Turner, Evans helps on Ish Smith penetration until Cory Joseph (goes under the Drummond screen) recovers:

From the Pacers’ POV, the best case outcome in these scenarios is if the ball-handler (Smith, Jackson) gets spooked by the hard show and immediately dumps the ball off to Drummond 20ish-feet away from the basket. Aggressive shows and hedges lead to splits by the ball-handler and slips from the bigs, but that’s when our (Pacers) defensive technique takes over.

If Brown isn’t on the floor, I’m still showing hard and fully committed to a complete rotation underneath. The Evans block Caitlin referred to met half those requirements:

No show, but full (albeit late) rotation from Evans with Joseph taking the first pass on the weak-side got the job done.

Now, those are my defending-Drummond-in-the-PNR rules. Things get a bit more complicated if Blake Griffin is the screen-setter...

Caitlin: Jumping out above the level of the screen with the intention of forcing Andre to make plays 4-on-3 is definitely something to monitor because the Pacers have demonstrated an increased willingness this season to be more adaptable with their typically conservative pick-and-roll coverages, but the change agents are usually guards and wings capable of making off-the-dribble threes (i.e. Damian Lillard).

Having said that, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see them make an exception to that general rule given that Drummond racked up 26 points and 16 rebounds in the last meeting.

However, if that turns out to be the case, those Pacers’ defensive principles you mentioned are going to need to be A LOT sharper than they’ve been over the last few games.

No getting burned by bigs darting to the rim to counteract the show like they did on Saturday against Orlando, and no letting the ball-handler slither his way in-between the showing big and the screener like they did against Portland.

As for Griffin, conventional wisdom points to overloading as the preferred method of choice. How much did that line of thinking change around the trade deadline when the team rattled off twelve wins in 14 outings while shooting a league-best 41 percent from three, compared to here recently when they lost six of nine?

Mike: Yeah, their run to get back in the playoff chase was a fun watch. Beyond Griffin, Detroit’s offense was starved of both shot-makers and shot-creators for the first 50 games of the year, and teams rightfully overloaded on our lone All-Star. Don’t tell the rest of DBB, but I was ready to throw in the towel on the season in early-February after they lost to Griffin’s former team, at home, despite being up by 25 points mid-way thru the 2nd quarter. Something happened after that Clippers loss, though, something darn-near unexplainable: the non-Blake people started to make shots. The turnaround was so jarring, it’s almost as if Dwane Casey rebooted the role players to their default settings by unplugging them and then plugging them back in, a trusty troubleshooting technique I’m very familiar with.

Teams still throw the kitchen sink at Griffin, but now, non-Blakes of all shapes and sizes are making their presence felt. Reggie Jackson’s timely revival (career-highs in 3-pt shooting, eFG%, TS%, pep-per-step%) has seemingly fallen on deaf ears on the national scene, but his resurgence is as important to winning as any other non-Blake variable. Langston Galloway is connecting on 47-percent of his three-pointers (on over five attempts) in his last 15 games, and dribble penetration is, apparently, a thing that he does now. We could go right down the roster: Luke Kennard is making Coach K proud; teams can’t stay in front of Ish Smith; at times, Wayne Ellington has been better at being Reggie Bullock than Reggie Bullock was being at Reggie Bullock; there is nothing you can do about Andre Drummond getting 15 and 15, it’s happening whether you like it or not; and Glenn Robinson III spent two seasons at the University of Michigan which is a really good program (OK, so almost everyone on the roster has contributed).

What I find interesting is how opponents prioritize the moving parts described in the paragraph above. For example, are teams more interested in corralling Jackson and Smith than keeping track of the shooters on the wings? For any team, you can’t stop everything, so what are defenses willing to give up? “How are we going to handle Griffin?” is, by far, number one on the pecking order of importance, but how they calculate the remaining matchups might alter their strategy against Griffin.

Taking space and sitting smugly somewhere in the back of the head of each Pistons fan, though, is the annoying fact we’ve witnessed hot-spurts like this before, but the franchise was unable to build on it. They’re not the 41-percent three-point shooting team from February, but they’re also not the 31-percent three-point shooting team from December, right? Right? Laz, who are these guys?

Laz: They are who we thought they were, Mike - a 40-43 win team helmed by a top-25 player and a more player-friendly coach. The schedule, in my mind has really been the deciding factor in how the Pistons’ results go. If they play a bunch of playoff teams in a row (like they did at the beginning of December, the beginning of January, and this current 3-6 stretch), they struggle. If they play a bunch of middling-to-poor teams (like the beginning of February and March), they can look quite good. The trick is, you gotta be watching this team every night to see it, and who in their right mind would do that?

I tend to think of the team’s hot play in February and March as a positive regression to the mean - prior to that, they had a bunch of guys shooting below their career averages from three, and they just could not make open shots. Those guys (Langston Galloway and Luke Kennard in particular) played the Knicks twice in four days, and the shots started falling. The shots starting to fall meant teams couldn’t load up on Blake as much, which meant the paint was less crowded, which benefited Andre more than Blake, honestly.

But the flaws (wing-sized wings and the Pistons’ lack thereof) are still there, exploitable.

Caitlin: Ahh, strength of schedule. Now there’s a familiar concept, as is struggling to make shots. On top of dropping 8 of their last 10 games against stiffer competition, the Pacers have stumbled through a number of lengthy scoring droughts (Oh, hi, 27-0 run against the Thunder! Whoops..almost didn’t see you there, 3-of-20 third quarter in Philly!).

Since Victor Oladipo’s season-ending injury, they’ve also been a vastly different team away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse (3-13) than they’ve been at home (10-4), which means this home-and-home with the Pistons could end up serving as a timely trial run for the postseason — even though the match-up itself is highly unlikely to be a playoff preview.

I went back and looked at Bojan Bogdanovic’s possessions from the last meeting after you mentioned Detroit’s lack of length on the wing, and Drummond’s drop coverage really stood out. He was surprisingly spry lunging and intercepting passes from Collison to Turner out of the pick-and-pop (in part, because Myles didn’t spread to three), but he labored (repeatedly) to stay square to Bogdanovic dribbling off the pick with Kennard and/or Ellington in rearview pursuit.

Indiana’s increasingly well-rounded scorer ended up finishing the night with as many paint points as Sabonis (14), it just didn’t matter that much because the Pistons knocked down 18 threes to Indiana’s 10 without coughing up enough turnovers to bridge the gap, as was the case in December.

Alright...I’ve geeked out long enough. The people are going to want us to talk about the extracurricular activities from the last two games, so we need to talk about the extracurricular activities from the last two games. They were fairly extra, to be quite frank, and active.

Am I doing this right?

In all seriousness, Kyle O’Quinn ran up the score differential from 35 to 37 in the waning minutes of the first game (which was a thing, I guess, because grr...UNWRITTEN RULES...grr), and then five technical fouls and a flagrant were called during the second-half of the second.

Is this something or nothing?

Mike: I’m all for chippiness and passive-aggressive behavior. The way I see it, if the Pistons were upset KOQ extended the lead to 37 late in the fourth quarter then they should’ve stopped the Pacers from going up 35 late in the fourth quarter. Where I start to squirm is when the funny (but fun!) business escalates into cheap shots in the form of unnecessary high elbows or overly physical tags. Love the finger pointing, the tough talk, and if they wanted to take the beef to Twitter, I’m cool with that too, but let’s make sure everyone leaves the game with all body parts functioning and in tact. Spoken like a true Detroit Bad Boy, I know, Bill Laimbeer would be proud.

If it’s good with Indy Cornrows, how about we just split the home-and-home? You guys take the first game, and we’ll take Wednesday night, deal? We rest some guys, you rest some guys, it seems like a win-win proposition. I’ll get DBB to sign off and we both avoid going 0-2.

Laz: Nah, Mike, give me both wins! They might actually need both!

I don’t mind a little bit of physicality - it’s better/more entertaining than the polar opposite (a 60-combined-free-throws game). I’m also surprised neither of you brought up another incident last game - the Blake flop/stepover/contact with Bojan, which preceded (and... incited?) Thad’s (textbook) hip-check.

That said, I just want to go into the playoffs with Blake and Andre in one piece - ask Portland fans about their playoff hopes after last week’s injury to Jusuf Nurkic.

Caitlin: (Victor Oladipo says hi on the injury front.) About that proposed split deal... It’s tempting, because a guaranteed Pistons loss/Pacers win would safeguard Indiana from dropping to sixth into **shutters** a first-round match-up with Philly, but I think I’ll take my chances on that magic number of one and side with Laz. Mostly because the Pacers are unfamiliar with this “planned rest” thing of which you speak and would likely end up playing their starters in both games anyway.

As for that double-tech tussle that preceded the hip check that preceded the subsequent double-techs later assessed to Drummond and Thad, I’m not really sure what Bogdanovic was supposed to do there. It looked more like a trip than something intentional, so my guess is that Griffin’s response may have been a case of frustration with physical defense finally boiling over.

Let’s just suffice it to say that nobody does (ahem) reactionary feistiness quite like the Pacers and Pistons.