Pacers use balance as offensive weapon

Jan. 23, 2012 – In the era of super-teams, the Pacers are a refreshing anomaly.

Theirs is a team built not around the individual but the collective. In the absence of a superstar, they use what they have as their biggest offensive weapon: balance.

The Pacers are 11-4 and tied for second in the Eastern Conference without anything close to a consistent 20-point scorer. But they do have seven players averaging in double figures, and already six have led or tied for the team scoring lead in at least one game -- including two reserves.

Whereas a team like the Lakers lives or dies by the productivity of its resident superstar, the Pacers subsist on whoever happens to be the best option at the time. It could be a hot hand, it could be a favorable matchup or it could be a trusty veteran. Most of the time, it has been any or all of the above.

"If you have one sort of go-to guy and you're going against a team that has a great defensive stopper, then they can key in on him, they can throw that one guy on him and shut down your main weapon," Coach Frank Vogel said. "But also if you're game-planning for one or two guys you can put all your forces into stopping those one or two guys.

"When you can spread it around and play with this selfless passing we're trying to achieve, where the ball is just hot-potatoed around and the open man gets the shot every time, not the go-to guy, that's tough to guard."

That philosophy was in full bloom Sunday night in Los Angeles, as was its polar opposite. While the Lakers rode Kobe Bryant all night long and he provided a game-high 33 points, the Pacers changed their defensive approach, focused more on Bryant and held the league's leading scorer to a single basket in the fourth quarter.

Indiana, on the other hand, played through center Roy Hibbert, who drew the defense's full attention by scoring eight of the Pacers' first 16 points of the period, then exploited it when the Pacers needed a bucket the most, dropping a give-and-go pass to Darren Collison for the go-ahead layup with 1:15 remaining in a 98-96 victory.

For the third time this season, all five starters scored in double figures. George Hill had 11 off the bench.

The challenge in a balanced offense is decision-making. When you have a superstar, it's easy: give it to him and get out of the way. When you share the wealth, it requires a little more thought to determine just who should get the ball in a given situation.

"That's a good problem," Collison said. "So many guys can score the ball you can't just zero in on one guy. We have a lot of guys that can put the ball in the hoop and it shows who we are as a team. Everybody's unselfish, nobody cares who's the leading scorer and we're going to continue to play that way."

David West was torrid in the first half, scoring 15 points to keep the Pacers in the game. But Hibbert had it going in the second, scoring 16 of his 18. Granger, Hill and Paul George chipped in timely 3-point shooting, combining to make 7 of 14. Collison kept the ball moving with seven assists.

An offensive juggernaut, the Pacers are not. They have scored more than 100 points just once. The magic number is 90; when they reach that total, they're 10-0.

Granger has been the primary go-to guy the past four seasons. He and West are former All-Stars. Both are major options in the fourth quarters of close games but neither dominates the ball. The good news is neither player was at full stride to start the season but both are getting up to speed quickly.

Granger has averaged 19.8 points in the last four games, shooting .424. West, who spent his offseason rehabbing from knee surgery and thus was behind in his conditioning when signed as a free agent, racked up 33 points in the last two victories over the Lakers and Warriors.

"(Balance) is a weapon because we have so many different options," Granger said. "If you have a team that works around one or two guys, it's easy to zero in on them -- trust me, I know that. So when it's the opposite, and we've got six or seven guys we can call plays for, it's kind of tough to figure out where the ball's going."

As rewarding as the approach can be when it works it can be difficult to maintain. It depends heavily on the individual players to be smart enough to read the defense and know where the opportunity lies and unselfish enough to send the ball in that direction.

"We still want to go to certain guys down the stretch but to have the ability if one player is being shut down for a certain reason, to go to different options is a weapon," Vogel said. "It's really dictated on the other team's defensive scheme and their defensive personnel.

"We just try to create situations and let our players be the quarterbacks. If we get the ball to David, it's not for David to get the shot, it's for David to read the situation and if it calls for a skip pass for a Granger three, great; if it calls for a big-to-big pass for Roy ducking in, great. We're just trying to create situations."

In the process, they've created a pretty nice situation for themselves.

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