Caught in the Web Indiana Pacers blog: Winning ugly a beautiful thing

Ability to win ugly a beautiful thing for Pacers

Dec. 27, 2011

To suggest the Pacers have showed a tendency to struggle when faced with win-ugly situations is an understatement.

In recent years, when the shots haven't fallen, the Pacers have.

Until opening night, in fact, they had lost the last 31 games -- including an 0-19 mark last season -- in which they had shot less than 40 percent from the field, dating back to early in the 2009-10.

And yet not only did they beat Detroit while shooting 36.8 percent, they did so handily, rolling up a 24-point lead and cruising home.

It was only one game against an overmatched opponent but it was a very good sign. Dead legs are going to be a primary characteristic of this compressed schedule, and the first victim of fatigue is the shooting stroke. That means a higher premium than ever will be placed on defense and rebounding, the two areas in which the Pacers dominated Monday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

They outrebounded Detroit 53-40, pulled 18 offensive rebounds, and held the Pistons to 36 percent shooting without racking up fouls.

"When you play a game where we could've done a lot better and still win from start to finish, that's a pretty good sign," Coacn Frank Vogel said. "We passed the ball pretty well, we attacked the basket and defensively we played extremely hard. That's just a staple of what our guys are made of and what they're going to see throughout the year."

Paul George was impressively disruptive on the perimeter, including the one highlight-reel sequence when he swatted away a Detroit jump shot, controlled the ball and drove the length of the court for a bucket. There were stretches of the game when it appeared George simply refused to allow the Pistons' guards to get a clean look at either a pass or a shot.

If he hasn't already, George may quickly evolve into the defensive leader of this team in only his second season.

"When I look at this team, there's All-Star potential at every position and we could have a different starting lineup each game. Anybody can come in and start," George said. "We've got guys that can make plays, guys that can make baskets but most importantly everybody is sold on winning defensively.

"That's the first thing we drill at practice, working on defense, working on transition defense, and working on stopping our man single-handedly. If each person can lock down his man then the team defense starts to work and then everything just starts to flow."

Of course, you don't want to make a habit of shooting in the 30s and that has proven a bit problematic thus far. The Pacers shot 35.3 percent in their two preseason losses to the Bulls, so it seems the offense could use a bit of fine-tuning.

Generally speaking they had good looks against the Pistons. David West and Danny Granger, who combined to hit 9-of-30, both missed handfuls of shots they routinely make.

"I think there's a little bit of a misconception about the field goal percentage," Vogel said. "When a team like us gets to the line as much as we do and we attack the basket as much as we do, we're not going to shoot a high percentage because we're attacking the basket and they're fouling us. Just because we shot 36 percent doesn't mean we're that inefficient offensively.

"We're still scoring the ball but the defensive confidence we're building is going to allow us to win ugly and to win pretty."

Make no mistake, Vogel's preaching of smash-mouth basketball has taken root. Adding players such as West, George Hill, Lou Amundson and Jeff Pendergraph only reinforces the philosophy while building the toughness -- mental and physical -- of the roster.

In a season that promises an abundance of ugly, the Pacers are showing signs of having what it takes to not only survive, but thrive.

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