Despite injuries, multiple changes in the rotation and a mostly ineffective offense, the Indiana Pacers have had one consistent calling card this season: championship-level defense.
The Pacers lead the NBA in defensive field goal percentage (41.4%) and defensive efficiency (96 points per 100 possessions) and second in points allowed (90.0 per game).
That defense was put to the test Tuesday night when the World Champion Miami Heat came to Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the first time since last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals. After giving up a 9-2 run to fall behind by seven points to start the second half, the Pacers outscored Miami 33-9 over the next 12 minutes.
How were the Pacers able to do it? Well, they made shots obviously, but the defense clamped down and held the best offense in the league to only four baskets. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said, “(The Pacers) grinded us to a near halt offensively.”
The Heat came into the game hitting 49% from the field. The Pacers held them to 41% and a season-low 77 points. Below, we analyze Indiana’s defense and how suffocating it was Tuesday night.
The Pacers have had issues at times with defending the pick and roll (PnR). Teams know this and usually try to attack Indiana’s big men, specifically Roy Hibbert & Ian Mahinmi, with this old, reliable method of attack. In these clips, the Pacers do a good of staying attached to the perimeter shooters to keep the ball handler from finding them for open looks and challenging shots. The Heat score on only one of their five PnR opportunities (and the only reason they score is because LeBron James is pretty good at basketball).
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how well a team is playing on defense, other teams just make shots. The key is to make sure the opposition works hard for their looks. This series of clips show just how hard the Heat had to work to get their buckets. They move the ball well and force the Pacers into rotation, but Indiana makes it challenging. There are no easy buckets allowed. It’s pretty much all you can ask for from a defense.
Good defense can lead to sped up offense, which leads to careless turnovers and quick shots. Here, the Pacers do an excellent job of turning the Heat over by having active hands and just being pests. Miami also does a disservice to itself by not making the defense work, taking quick shots after one pass. It’s great when those shots go in, but when they don’t it fuels the type of prolonged run the Pacers had during this stretch.
This is the best defensive possession of the entire 12-minute stretch. Miami gets James in a great position, one-on-one with Paul George in the middle of the floor. The Heat sends cutters through the lane in an attempt to find a cheap, easy bucket. Watch how David West shows hard on the cutters while keeping an eye on the ball and good defensive position on his own man. Also, George is keeping his hands active to discourage James from passing to either cutter. After the cutters go through, the shot clock is running down and James has to settle for step-back fadeaway jumper over George’s close-out defense from 19 feet. A great defensive possession against the world’s best player.
Defense is the main reason Indiana leads the Central Division after a slow 3-6 start. It remains to be seen if the Pacers can sustain this level of defense for an entire season, but they may have to since their offense has been well below average all year. Until that comes around, it’s beneficial to have a championship-level defense to carry them to wins.
Follow Jay Neal on Twitter @JayNilla