The Pacers began the week with a 0-3 record and many questions to answer. Should there be any concern with Paul George’s inefficient start? Why is Monta Ellis struggling so badly? Will the “Small Ball” approach work without sacrificing the defense? These questions and many more were being asked going into the Pacers matchup in Detroit against Andre Drummond and the large front line for the Pistons. Multiple Pacers players spoke to the media in the shootaround prior to the contest and were embarrassed by their lack of focus and execution. Much of the lack of focus could be seen on the offensive end where the Pacers were in the bottom of the league in offensive efficiency, points scored, and point differential. The Pacers became a much more aggressive team on both sides of the court and seemed to focus on two aspects of their scheme, and that was shooting earlier in the shot clock and defending the passing lanes much more aggressively. These two aspects provided great results as they picked up important victories in Detroit against the Pistons and at home against the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat before dropping a close decision to the Cleveland Cavaliers and finish the week with a 3-1 record.
The week began in Detroit where Andre Drummond was predicted to pose a problem for the Pacers small lineup so Coach Vogel decided to Start Jordan Hill and Levoy Allen at the front with Paul George at his natural position at the small forward position. Initially, the lineup changed failed as Drummond dominated early as Indiana was behind 30-22 late in the first quarter. Once the second units came in, one of the Pacers’ offseason acquisitions led the charge for the second unit. Rodney Stuckey and the bench brigade led a 22-0 run between the first and second quarter and led the Pacers to a 59-47 lead at the half. The Pacers starting unit continued the aggressiveness on both ends of the floor. The Pacers’ active hands led to 15 steals for 23 turnovers and 38% shooting for the Pistons. Indiana struggled shooting in the fourth; only converting for 9 points, but still managed a respectable 43% shooting to win 94-82. Stuckey led the way with 23 points and 4 rebounds on 9/14 shooting which was vital considering Paul George and Monte Ellis continued to struggle, combining for only 12/33 and 31 points.
The Pacers returned home the following night to face the Boston Celtics and the Pacers were going to need another offensive contributor as the Celtics were a great defensive team in all aspects of the game. Paul George wanted to be that player as he was focused on breaking out of his early season shooting slump. George arrived to the arena at 2:30 P.M. to get some early shots in and it seemed to help as he led the offensive charge early, scoring 8 points in the opening quarter as the Pacers led 23-16. The second quarter was relatively even, but the Pacers seemed to lose some of their defensive aggressiveness as they led 49-43 on Paul George’s 15 points. Boston took control of the third quarter led by Avery Bradley’s hot shooting as they only trailed 73-72. The fourth quarter saw a battle between Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas for the Celtics, and Monta Ellis and Paul George for the Pacers. All players made great plays but the last play made was two clutch free throws by Ellis who created the final score of 100-98. The Pacers continued their aggressive defense which resulted in 10 steals and 19 turnovers for the Celtics. The duo of Ellis and George played improved basketball, especially in the high pick and roll which produced a portion of the points for the duo. The combo for the Pacers finished with a +28 and Paul George finished with 26 points on 8/18 shooting to go with 10 rebounds and 3 assists. George’s shooting was still a little under where an elite player’s accuracy should be but he was saving his best for the weekend.
The Pacers had a chance to measure their progress against a tested playoff bound team in the Miami Heat on Hickory night in Indiana. Paul George and company made sure not to disappoint as they had an amazing start. Paul George led the charge as he scored 9 of the Pacers first 15 points as they led 15-8 early in the first quarter; however, they hit a large drought as they missed 13 straight shots and trailed 26-16 at the end of the first quarter. The Pacers trailed by as many as 13 in the second quarter as they struggled mightily at the offensive end. As the Pacers were down 39-26 when they outscored the Heat 23-10 as they closed the gap and were tied at the half. The teams traded leads in a low scoring quarter as the Pacers led 71-68 going into the fourth quarter. Paul George definitely left his mark in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 points and icing the game with his shot making in the final minutes. Paul George was unstoppable, scoring 36 points on the night on 14-27 shooting to go with 12 rebounds and 3 assists. It was truly a coming out party on the national stage to let the NBA know that Paul George is back. Offensively, George shouldered most of the offense, but it was a great team effort limiting the Heat to only 87 points and limiting Dwayne Wade to only 9 points in 30 minutes of play.
During the three game winning streak that the Pacers displayed, they only gave up 89 points on 41 % shooting and 30% from the three point line, a far cry from the 105 point per game, on 46% shooting and 41% from threes that they were allowing during their 0-3 start (Stats courtesy of ESPN.com). The Pacers’ catalyst for the defensive change is their speed and aggressiveness in transition and in the passing lanes. The result was the Pacers leading the NBA in steals during the three game stretch with 29 steals in three games. Offensively, it was the emergence of Paul George leading the charge as the Pacers shot over 43% in the games against the Pistons and the Heat. When Paul George is making his shots from the perimeter, it opens up the paints for guys like George Hill and Monte Ellis to operate and slash to the rim with the addition of kicking it out to the open shooters like C.J. Miles, Rodney Stuckey, and Chase Budinger. The Pacers showed that they can contend with playoff tested opponents and can win in multiple ways by executing in the clutch. Unfortunately, that is where the Pacers struggled in the final game of the week.
The Pacers visited the Cavaliers in Cleveland where they faced another division rival and another team to measure themselves against to see where they contend with the NBA’s best. Ellis and George led the Pacers in the first, scoring 14 of the Pacers 22 in the first quarter. The duo continued their hot start until George received his third foul before halftime. The Pacers poor defense in the post hurt them as Kevin Love started to position himself well and received good entry passes from Lebron James as they created as 8-0 run to finish the first half at a 47-42 lead. Ellis and George continued to keep the Pacers close throughout the second half as they only trailed by one going into the fourth quarter. Paul attempted to take over the fourth quarter and he succeeded with the help of Monta Ellis. The Pacers clawed their way into the lead at 90-88 with about 4 minutes to go in the game when Lebron James took over the game. James was unhappy at multiple times from not getting calls he is used to receiving. He then decided that his best option was to be more aggressive and force the officials to make a call one way or another. In the clutch the Pacers failed to defend without fouling and failed to force the ball out of James’ hands. Lebron James scored all 7 of his points from the free throw line and provided a few good assists to Kevin Love for some easy baskets as the Pacers fell 101-97 despite Paul George out playing James. The Pacers simply failed to defend and execute at key points at the end. Many positives could be taken from the game as the Pacers only turned the ball over for a season low 7 times and shot a very efficient 43% in addition to only being outrebounded by 1 during the game at 47-48. Also, Ellis and George combined for 57 points on 21/38 shooting to go with 16 rebounds and 9 assists, which is clearly the best effort of the season. The Pacers did not end the week on the highest of notes, but proved that they have the ability and the players necessary to be a legitimate force in the East this year with Paul George as the leader.
Without a doubt, Paul George was the hot man this week. Paul George averaged 27.5 points per game, 10.5 rebounds per game, and 4.5 assists per game on 46% shooting and 40% on three pointers. According to Fox Sports Indiana, George is on pace to be the third player in NBA history to average 21+ points, 9+ rebounds, 4+ assists, and 2+ steals in a season. The only other players to do such a feat are George Mcginnis and Larry Bird.
The Pacers low post defense takes the spot this week as they simply struggled to contain big men on the glass. Andre Drummond had 29 rebounds for the Pistons, Jared Sullinger had 11 rebounds for the Celtics, Hassan Whiteside and Chris Bosh combined for 23 rebounds for the Heat, and Kevin Love had 19 rebounds for the Cavaliers. These are all signs of poor boxing out that is leading to extra possessions for the opponent that ultimately leads to more points for the opposition. The Pacers were outrebounded by 10 this week, if they can limit the rebounding battle to break even, it would result in fewer possessions and more wins for the Pacers.
Outlook to last season:
As this time Last year, the Pacers were in a six game losing streak at 1-6 after losing a back to back against the Celtics and Wizards. With so many injuries mounting, the Pacers were led in minutes by men like Solomon Hill and Donald Sloan. This year at 3-4, there is more promise than what the record indicates as Indiana could very easily be 5-2 if execution was better in the clutch.
The Road Ahead:
The Pacers face a three game week when they go home for a quick date the Orlando Magic on Monday November 9th. The Pacers head up to Boston for a quick game against the Celtics on Wednesday, November 11th, before they close the week at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, November 13th.
The Pacers showed last week that they can defend teams without a traditional big man very well and they will prove that again this week as well. The Orlando Magic have a few injuries they are nursing, such as their talented center Nikola Vucevic and his deep knee bone bruise. If Vucevic does not play, that would leave a front court advantage to the Pacers. It would be expected for Indiana to use their speed and firepower from the perimeter to win and go back to .500 for the season. The Pacers will have their second game in the last five with the Celtics and will face a tough, defensive minded team with revenge on their minds. The offense is clicking much better than the last meeting and the Pacers defensive tenacity combined with an efficient offense will be too much for Avery Bradley and the Celtics to handle as the Pacers will win a close contest from the predicted return of Rodney Stuckey. The Pacers final game of the week as Indiana will simply out-execute the Timberwolves with speed and perimeter scoring. Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio are having a great start to the season but Paul George, Monte Ellis, and George Hill will be suffocating on the perimeter and will force many turnovers in the contest as the Pacers will win big on Friday the 13th.
Monta Ellis averages 20+ points per game for the week