During the regular season, Paul George manned the perimeter and Roy Hibbert patrolled the interior to help the Pacers finish first in defensive rating. Only the Grizzlies, with Marc Gasol and Tony Allen, had two players place higher in Defensive Player of the Year voting than Indiana did with George (eighth) and Roy Hibbert (tenth).
But facing the inside-outside threat that is Carmelo Anthony, the league’s top scorer, has created a unique challenge for the Pacers.
Hibbert revealed a little insight into how Indiana is handling Melo. Via Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated:
“You see the minutes — Paul played 43, I played 40 — it’s the most I’ve played in playoffs,” said Hibbert. “Coach said whenever Melo was in the game, me and Paul were going to be out there. When Melo checks back in, me and Paul go back in. We want to crowd him and make things as difficult as possible for him.”
Melo has played 96:30 against both Hibbert and George, 7:42 against just George and another 0:50 against just Hibbert. That leaves only 2:43 that Melo has played in this series with neither George nor Hibbert on the floor.
George swarms Melo near the arc, preventing him from attempting 3-pointers. Just 14 percent of Melo’s field-goal attempts in this series have been 3-pointers, down from 28 percent in the regular season.
Hibbert bothers Melo in the paint, where Melo’s shooting percentage has fallen from 51 in the regular season to 35 percent in this series.
With nowhere else to turn, Melo is taking a higher percentage of his shots from mid-range – a definite win for the Pacers. Melo’s scoring rate shows how large the impact of Indiana’s defensive tandem has been:
- Melo against Hibbert and George: 69 points in 96:30
- Melo against one or neither: 11 points in 11:19
How should Melo counter? Keep plugging.
He’s still averaging 26.7 points per game in this series, and even if he’s shooting just 40 percent when facing both Hibbert and George, other Knicks aren’t better equipped to score on the Pacers’ defense.
And maybe Melo can win a war of attrition. George is used to playing so much, but Hibbert is not. Maybe Melo can outlast at least one of the two, more likely Hibbert, and finally get some clean looks at the basket.