Their season hasn’t always been as positive as it is now. The Pacers only won seven games out of 15 in the month of November, dropping contests to lottery-bound teams. They were sputtering on offense without Danny Granger.
That has started to change in February, and last night’s game against the Warriors was a prime example.
Despite the offensive struggles, Indiana has the stingiest defense in the NBA, ranking first in defensive efficiency. Their philosophy is to funnel drives into their center Roy Hibbert, who happens to be one of the best rim-protectors in the league, running shooters off the three-point line, and ultimately forcing teams to hoist up a ton of mid-range jumpers.
This is basic defensive strategy in the NBA, but the Pacers athleticism and length make them absolutely deadly when applying it.
However, Golden State can disrupt this at times with their exceptional mid-range shooting. The story remained the same on Tuesday night, as 40.7 percent of their field-goal attempts came from the mid-range area and they hit right at their average on the season. Throw in 12 three-pointers, seven from Stephen Curry alone, and you start to wonder how Golden State lost the game.
The answer? Indiana’s offense.
The Pacers destroyed Golden State inside, finishing 9-of-12 in the restricted area. They even adopted their opposition’s style by taking the majority of their shots from the mid-range, but they hit on 60 percent of them.
Obviously, that type of number can’t be sustained in the long run, but many of these looks were lacking a Golden State defender contesting them on Tuesday night. That’s due to an improved, more creative offense from the Pacers.
Instead of relying heavily on post touches for Hibbert, the Pacers have allowed more freedom to Paul George, their up-and-coming star, by putting him into more pick-and-rolls and isolations on the wing where he can use his elite athleticism to his advantage.
This adjustment has not only aided Indiana, but it also helped George get to his first All-Star game.
The Pacers have also used George as a decoy to get David West the ball in areas he’s effective at. The above video displays one way the Pacers get West an open look at the top of the key — one of his favorite spots on the floor.
George runs off a weak-side staggered screen and receives the ball just past West with his defender behind him. He now has room to get to the basket when he catches the ball, and forces West’s defender, David Lee, to leave his assignment to help. This allows for a simple kick back from George, to Lance Stephenson, to West, with a defensive rotation that never comes.
The Pacers also took advantage of the Warriors’ constant double-teams in the post by cutting baseline for easy looks at the rim, off-ball screening to get shooters open looks, and simply passing the ball back out and swinging it around the perimeter.
Some of these actions are basic and can be found at any level of basketball, but the Pacers lacked this early in the season, and it cost them some victories despite playing superb defense. Indiana is now up to 20th in offensive efficiency, a mark that has slowly been climbing over the past few months.
If last night’s game was played in November, chances are the Pacers’ offense would’ve cost them a W.
Brandon Curry is an NBA columnist for Rant Sports. Follow Brandon on Twitter @ByBrandonCurry