Flash back to early February and you’ll find two major questions surrounding the Indiana Pacers. Could their offense match the level of their devastating defense — or even reach something close to it? And what about their reserves? Do they have enough talent on the bench to help out come playoff time?
Both of those mid-season worries were answered on Wednesday night, at least for one game, as the Pacers throttled the Atlanta Hawks, 113-98.
It wasn’t a typical victory for this Pacers team. For much of the regular season, they relied heavily on their bruising, floor-shrinking defense to keep them in games and even win them others. The offense, for the most part, lagged behind.
As the 113 points will attest to, this is a different game plan the Pacers are executing. It’s an offense that is much more aesthetically pleasing than the former version.
The Pacers “power-post” scheme employed for much of the season, where they essentially spent chunks of possessions waiting on post-up opportunities for their bigs, has been momentarily shelved. Instead, the ball has been in Paul George’s hands more often than not. Whether it’s George sealing off smaller Hawks defenders in the high post or him working as the ball-handler in pick-and-rolls, the Pacers as a whole have featured much better ball movement and spacing.
Indiana will continue to look for both Roy Hibbert and David West in the post. They certainly haven’t forgot about them. But allowing George more freedom inside the offense and asking more of them have essentially carved up Atlanta’s defense through two games. George’s versatility, whether surveying the defense in isolation and finding open shooters, driving to the rim, or knocking down off-the-dribble jumpers, has allowed the Pacers to morph into something much more difficult to defend.
Should the Pacers win this series and move on, it will be interesting to see if head coach Frank Vogel reverts back to the power-post scheme. Is this new strategy on offense being used just because the Hawks are playing smaller lineups than most other NBA teams and also lack the length on the perimeter to adequately defend George? Whatever the answer might possibly be, the Pacers’ reserves have benefited from what is working in this series.
The Pacers bench was a clear weakness for much of the regular season, as they were 28th in the league in points per game. While that number can be somewhat misleading considering Indiana’s starters were one of the most-used five man groups in the NBA, it’s obvious the reserves weren’t seen as a strength.
That changed as the Pacers took their two-game lead on Wednesday night, as the bench combined for 38 points.
The biggest contributor from the reserves came from Gerald Green and his outside shooting. His 15 points and three three-pointers were mainly due to the spacing the Pacers have now created. There are more driving lanes for George and other ball-handlers like George Hill, to penetrate and kick to open shooters.
Now, just like this new offense, will the bench production last? Wednesday night’s performance from reserves like Green, Jeff Pendergraph and D.J. Augustin is definitely a positive sign, as the Hawks aren’t just a run-of-the-mill NBA defense. Atlanta ranked 10th in the league in terms of defensive efficiency during the regular season. It’s certainly possible.
Ultimately, the Pacers are in complete control. The Hawks look frustrated, focusing more attention on the officiating instead of the task at hand, and it’s carrying over into their play. But the Pacers’ improved offense is certainly igniting the Atlanta miscues.
Let’s hope it sticks around.
Brandon Curry is an NBA writer for Rant Sports. Follow Brandon on Twitter @ByBrandonCurry