Indiana generates early offense to keep pressure on Toronto
POSTED: Apr 23, 2016 8:57 PM ET
Raptors vs. Pacers: Game 4
George Hill and Ian Mahinmi score 22 points apiece and the Pacers take Game 4 over the Raptors to tie the series 2-2.
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers are not a good offensive team, especially when they have to manufacture shots against a set defense. The Pacers ranked 23rd in offensive efficiency in the regular season and over the last three games of their first round series with the Toronto Raptors, they've shot 49 percent in the first 12 seconds of the shot clock and 30 percent in the last 12 seconds.
The pace in this series has favored the Raptors, who ranked 29th in possessions per 48 minutes. The Pacers, who ranked 10th, would prefer to run. Playoff basketball is generally slower than the regular season, but every possession counts and every opportunity to get an easy basket is an important one. Those opportunities in the first quarter of Game 4 on Saturday were particularly critical in allowing the Pacers to take control of the game.
The boxscore shows just eight fast break points for the Pacers in a 100-83 victory that evened the series at two games apiece, with Game 5 in Toronto on Tuesday. The player-tracking data shows fewer shots in the first 12 seconds of the shot clock (29) than Indiana had in any of the first three games.
But in the first quarter, transition and secondary-break opportunities set the tone and gave the Pacers a cushion that sustained them all afternoon.
Monta Ellis' numbers (seven points on 3-for-7 shooting, three assists) don't stand out in the boxscore. But he was the guy pushing the ball in transition off of steals, missed shots, and even made buckets. In fact, the Pacers' first transition opportunity came after a Jonas Valanciunas put-back on the other end of the floor. Ellis took the inbounds pass, got an early sideline screen from Myles Turner, and was scoring over Valanciunas with 18 seconds left on the shot clock.
A few minutes later, a DeMar DeRozan turnover turned into a Paul George dunk off a fast-break feed from Ellis. Then came George by himself, slicing through the Raptors' defense in transition. Later in the quarter, Ellis capped a 9-0 run that pushed the Indiana lead to 14 points with a 3-pointer with 17 on the shot clock and the Toronto defense having failed to match up.
"That's been the plan all series," George said, "to try to get out and get easy offense, get easy opportunities, strike early, strike quick. That's been a key. We've done it very few times throughout this series, but I thought tonight, we had a good stretch. Every time I turned my head, we were under the basket, getting a layup. That was a positive and we definitely took a step forward in that direction."
It started on the other end of the floor. It's hard to run when you're taking the ball out of the basket, and the Pacers had their best defensive game of the season. They're a defensive team first and foremost, and they led the league in points off turnovers. On Saturday, they forced 19 miscues from the Raptors, 10 of the live-ball variety.
"We got to get back, get down and get set early, because they were playing early," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said about his team's inability to stop the Pacers' transition game. "Taking care of the basketball will give us a chance to get back and get down. That's the ball game."
With a clear intent to get into the offense early and keep the ball moving, things came easier for the Pacers' offense than they had all series. They put the Raptors on their heels and outscored them 50-26 in the paint. After getting no more than 13 baskets at the rim in the first three games, the Pacers had 23 in Game 4, a number that correlated with their ability to push the ball.
"If we let them come down and put their elite rim protector in the charge circle for 48 minutes and try to play half-court against these guys, it's going to be a struggle," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "Those guys are great. [Bismack] Biyombo and Valanciunas at the rim are very, very difficult to score on. So we need points in transition. The boxscore only has us for eight, but I thought we ran a lot better than we have all series."
The Raptors looked clearly like the better team in this series after Game 3. But the Pacers responded and were the team that played with more purpose on Saturday. After two first round exits over the last two years, Toronto will be feeling the pressure, especially with DeRozan and Kyle Lowry having combined to shoot 31 percent through the first four games.
The Pacers' defense deserves a lot of credit for those numbers and is among the best in the league. And if they can get out in transition, their offense isn't so bad either.
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