The Indiana Pacers began the week by finishing a back-to-back stretch at home against the Orlando Magic. There was some moderate concerns to how the Pacers would respond after narrowly losing to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on the previous night, but Paul George was determined to make a statement early.
Paul George scored 19 of the Pacers first 25 points by attacking the basket from the high pick and roll, and knocking down multiple shots from three point distance. Despite George’s efforts, the Pacers could not pull away in the first half as they only led 49-48 at the half. The third quarter saw the Pacers pick up the defensive intensity and focused on containing Evan Fournier and Victor Oladipo on the perimeter and preventing penetration into the paint as well as defending without fouling. The Magic picked up the efficiency as well in the fourth as the Pacers were trailing 80-81 heading into the final quarter. Paul George hit a three and helped led the Pacers on a 19-3 run that saw the Pacers finally get the separation they needed to secure the victory 97-84.
The Pacers only allowed 36 points in the second half and only 13 in the fourth quarter, as they forced 21 turnovers on 12 steals and forced the Magic to shoot under 40 percent for the game. Paul George and George Hill led the Pacers in scoring, putting up a combined 50 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists on 15/30 shooting as they evened the team record at 4-4.
The Pacers traveled to Boston for a quick road date against the Celtics where Brad Stevens’ team narrowly lost to the Pacers in an earlier contest at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. With revenge on their minds, the Celtics were going to be a tough test on their home floor against the Pacers. The contest overall was a game that saw a lot of fouls and was very typical of Pacers-Celtics contests of recent memory.
Indiana got off to a fast start led by C.J. Miles who had 11 points in the first quarter. The Pacers backcourt took advantage of the absence of Avery Bradley as Monta Ellis, Miles, and George all made contributions throughout the contest. The Pacers led 31-23 after the first quarter but struggled toward the end of the half as they only led 51-49 at the intermission and were shooting only 42 percent compared to the Celtics shooting 47 percent from the field. The Pacers poor shooting carried into early second half as they trailed 60-53. Then Paul George created a 9-0 run of his own in a 1:22 period as they retook the lead, 62-60. The Pacers never looked back as they extended their lead to 81-74 going into the fourth quarter. The final period saw the Celtics close the lead to 90-87 at the midway point of the fourth when the Pacers began to execute at a much higher level. The Pacers outscored the Celtics 12-4 in the final six minutes and forced the Celtics into seven turnovers in the fourth quarter as they pulled away with a 102-91 victory. Indiana improved their record to 5-4, the first time they've had a plus .500 record this season. Paul George once again led the team in scoring, but the tandem of Monta Ellis, C.J. Miles, and Paul George led the team with 56 points, 16 rebounds, and 14 assists on 20/41 shooting.
The Pacers finished the week at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves who were an impressive 4-0 on the road and were led by the youth of Andrew Wiggins and the leadership of future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett. The game started with the Pacers playing behind as the Timberwolves took a 27-23 lead at the end of the first. The Pacers caught fire in the second and third quarter as they scored 66 points in those quarters and took an 87-60 lead late in the third quarter. Unfortunately for Pacers fans, the wheels nearly fell off at that point as the Minnesota Timberwolves had a 40-14 run to pull within 101-100 late with just over a minute to go in the game. Monta Ellis led in the clutch by making some key decisions and highlights on both ends of the floor. Ellis sealed the game on a great defensive block to help the Pacers hold on 107-103.
The key to the three-game winning streak was the Pacers overall defensive effort, especially in the clutch. According to ESPN.com, going into Friday’s matchup, the Pacers were fourth in the NBA in points allowed at 95.3 per game and turnovers forced at 17.3 per game. A more impressive stat is that they had only allowed 90.5 points per game in the last six games. Overall, the Pacers defensive efforts have gone unnoticed, especially in the fourth quarter. According to Fox Sports Indiana, the Pacers were allowing 33.3 points per game on 46 percent shooting in the fourth quarter of their first three games, but have have only allowed 20 points per game on 36 percent shooting in the five games since (the stats were updated up to the Wednesday game against the Celtics).
One stat that was mentioned last week is that the Pacers largely struggled the weeks before in terms of the rebounding battle. The goal that was established is that if they could at least tie in their net rebounding for the week, they would win the games for the week. For the three games, the Pacers finished with a plus-five rebounding edge for the week and won the rebounding battle in two of the three games, leading to a 3-0 record for the week. This is a definite improvement from their first seven games, as they lost the rebounding battle in five of seven games and had a net of -29 rebounds.
Paul George is without a doubt the best and most important player for the Pacers to start the season. For the week, George had games of 27, 26, and 29 points and had averages of 27.3 points per game, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists on 44.6 percent shooting and a blistering 56 percent from three point distance. According to Grant Afseth of VAVEL USA, Paul George and Russell Westbrook are the only two players who are currently averaging at least 24+ points, 8.5+ rebounds, 4.5+ assists, and 1.5+ steals per game, making George without question a deserving MVP candidate.
Monta Ellis is not putting up the numbers some Pacers fans were expecting for the season, but he has certainly put up very important performances for the week. Ellis put up some respectable numbers as he averaged 13 points, three rebounds, and five assists per game while shooting 45.7 percent from the field. However, if you eliminate Ellis’ poor performance against the Magic, Ellis was averaging 18.5 points on 57 percent shooting. Ellis had very important stretches in the Timberwolves game as he had the most important role in sealing the victory in the clutch as he put up 24 points on 11/17 shooting. Ellis is beginning to show leadership on the floor and gives the Pacers an edge they simply didn't have in years past. Also, it is becoming clear that the Pacers are extremely difficult to beat when Monta Ellis and Paul George are in sync with each other and the rest of the offense.
The Look Ahead:
The Pacers have three games this week as they have a two game road trip against the Chicago Bulls on Monday, November 16th and against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, November 18th. The Pacers then return home to play against their division rival, the Milwaukee Bucks, on November 21st.
The Pacers will have their toughest game of the week first, when they travel to Chicago to play the Bulls. The Pacers and Bulls always play a close and physical game when they meet. The contest will feature two of the league’s brightest young stars when Jimmy Butler and Paul George go head to head. The game will be close but the stretch lineup of Nikola Mirotic and Jimmy Butler will be a factor in the game as they will squeak out a very close win against the Pacers at home. The problem will lie in George likely guarding Butler in the clutch and the Pacers not really having anyone with the proper mixture of speed and size to stop Mirotic, giving him an opportunity to make a few key shots down the stretch to make the difference. If the Pacers can limit their turnovers, play defense without fouling and win the rebounding battle, they will win on the road.
The Pacers will then travel to the Sixers and will simply execute at a higher level on both ends of the court then what the Sixers can sustain. This will be a comfortable victory for the Pacers to help them get back to two games above .500. The Pacers will have trouble with securing rebounds with the Sixers frontline, but will simply dominate in the other aspects of the game to secure the victory.
The Pacers will return home for a matchup with a young Bucks team that will likely fight with the Pacers for playoff seeding in the months to come. The matchups to watch will be George Hill against Michael Carter-Williams, and Paul George against Giannis Antetokounmpo. If the Pacers can contain the Bucks length and prevent paint penetration, they will slow down the Bucks offensive execution. Monta Ellis will have a monster game against one of his former teams as he will be the x-factor in the Pacers victory as they finish the week with a close, but strong win. The Pacers will begin to prove they have the pieces to be a truly efficient team on both ends of the court and will be showing signs as a top-five NBA team as they will finish the week with an 8-5 record.
2-1 record, 8-5 for season. Also, Paul George will notch his first triple double of the season this week.