May 7 2013 12:37PM

The Great Wall Of Indiana


Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

The Indiana Pacers defense all starts with Roy Hibbert, and the New York Knicks know that all too well after their Eastern Semifinals Game 1 Sunday, just as the Atlanta Hawks learned in their first-round playoff battle.

To be fair, the entire NBA kinda already knew The Great Wall of Indiana was built around its 7-2, 280-pound center Hibbert, especially when the Pacers posted a league-leading 96.6 defensive efficiency in 2012-13.

But in Round 1 and in Game 1 of Round 2, the Hawks and Knicks both saw first-hand that it is virtually impossible to get anything started against Hibbert-centric lineups.

in seven playoff games, Indiana has established a 94.6 defensive rating against Atlanta and New York when Hibbert is playing; when HIbbert is out, the Pacers' defensive rating drops off to a 101.9.

How big a contrast is that?

When Hibbert is out of the game, the Pacers have an above-average defense, allowing 101.9 points per 100 possessions, which would rank 11th in the NBA.

When Hibbert is in the game, the Pacers D is historic, with a 94.6 score.

Big-time scorers Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith found out the hard way Sunday in Game 1 when they combined for only 44 points on 43 shots.

Just imagine. Both of these Knicks first had to contend with probable All-Defense wing Paul George on the perimeter at one time or another. And then, if they cleared that obstacle, they then had to deal with the giant in the paint, Hibbert, who finished with five blocked shots and many more altered.

Hibbert would pick up Melo or J.R. on the drive. Stay vertical. Hands straight up. Get back to Tyson Chandler, if necessary. And help the Pacers secure the rebound, with Indiana maintaining a 14-board and 5-offensive-rebound edge on the Knicks.

Now you see why the 26-year-old giant gave the Hawks such problems, forcing Atlanta to scrap its starting lineup to go really big, inserting larger center Johan Petro in Game 3 while Al Horford and Josh Smith bumped down to the two forward slots.

Throughout this series and despite the position change, Hibbert still bothered Horford and Smith, who combined to score only 202 points on 173 shots in six games, but it has been a defense-on-a-string type thing that forced the changes.

The Indiana Fab 5 starting lineup of Hibbert, David West, Paul George, Lance Stephenson and George Hill has played together more than any other quintet in the postseason, posting an incredible +17.4 net rating in 144 minutes.

And as a five-man unit, this combo has put together a 90.3 defensive rating, which is especially impressive considering the competition--the NBA's third-ranked and 15th-ranked offenses (New York and Atlanta, respectively).

For all five-man NBA playoff units that have played 40-plus minutes together, nobody tops Indiana, which has a 114.3 offensive rating and 92.0 defensive rating.

I mean, how would you--playoff team or not--like to be a player trying to get a shot off on the frontline of 7-2, 280-pound HIbbert, 6-9, 250-pound West and 6-8, 221-pound George?

During Round 1 action, in hopes of shaking things up, Hawks Coach Larry Drew had to do something, like pulling small forward Kyle Korver from the starting lineup and letting him shoot away at the Pacers' second-stringers.

The change worked for a spell, but the Pacers adjusted and held Korver to 14 points combined on 17 shots in Games 5 and 6.

The Knicks too are talking adjustment.

Will Jason Kidd and/or J.R. Smith move in the starting lineup to generate more offense? Who knows?

But one thing we do know is The Great Wall of Indiana will make life difficult no matter who starts for any which-way-whatever team.