For those of us who came into this season saying the Indiana Pacers were likely the second best team in the East, their ugly 3-6 start didn’t look good at all. Especially if you watched them play and saw an offense that looked as lethargic as you felt right after your third helping of Thanksgiving dinner.
But the Pacers are sort of to the NBA what the Los Angeles Kings were to the NHL last season (you remember that league, right?) — a team better built for the playoffs and one that needed its parts to come together before they could click.
And the Pacers will not have all their pieces until likely February — Danny Granger is out with knee issues. He was key to their offense because, although he is no superstar, he could create shots and be the guy they could dump the ball to late in the clock when other things didn’t work.
But the Pacers are 3-1 in their last four may finally be figuring it out by trying not to get anyone else to be Granger, something pointed out in a fantastic article by Paul Flannery at SB Nation.
Paul George started trying to be Granger and that didn’t really work.
“I really took it upon myself that I had to play well every night,” George said. “I think that’s something that kind of messed me up in the head a little bit because when I had moments to score I was kind of speeding myself up, just the anxiety that I had to knock that shot down.”
David West talked about how the Pacers need to just be themselves, not try to be Granger, if they are going to win.
“I don’t think you have to do that,” West said. “It’s about playing your game, maximizing what you do and we had opportunities down the stretch where guys just made plays.”
It’s all about the offensive end of the floor — the Pacers are actually playing the best defense in the NBA based on points per possession. And like a great defensive team should do, they are grinding the pace down to limit opponent opportunities (25th in pace in the league).
But they still have to score. They need Roy Hibbert to get back to finishing around the rim — he is shooting 37.9 percent this season, down 12 percentage points from last season, in part because the 7’2” center is shooting just 48.9 percent inside the restricted area. (Stats via Hoopdata.)
They also need George to score, but his way. Which he is starting to do — he dropped 37 on the Hornets.
But ultimately here is the thing about Indiana — they will be there in the end in the playoffs. And once in a setting where the pace already slows down, where defense matters more, where being solid at every position matters, they are still going to be a very tough out.