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Copeland Stays Ready

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

April 29, 2014

Chris Copeland signed with the Pacers for a reason: to contribute on a team that had championship aspirations. However, just a couple weeks after Copeland joined with the Pacers last July, the team acquired veteran Luis Scola in a trade with Phoenix, a move that has limited playing time for the second-year forward.

Through the twists and turns of the season, the seldom-used Copeland has maintained a positive, team-first attitude. Now, with the Pacers on the brink of elimination in their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, Indiana may need to turn to the sharpshooter, among other slight changes, to counter Atlanta’s spread-five lineup that has been bothersome all series.

Indiana hasn’t had any luck playing their typical inside-out game. Part of that is due to center Roy Hibbert’s ineffectiveness (Hibbert is averaging 4.8 points and 3.4 rebounds per game in the series). There’s a reason the he hasn’t seen the floor during the fourth quarter in four consecutive games. The Pacers have also been blitzed offensively by the Hawks, who have attempted at least 27 3-pointers in each game and have made a total of 14 more tries than the Pacers.

“It’s just difficult,” said Paul George. “They spread us out and we’re used to packing the paint, playing big, playing physical. It’s like playing pick-up ball against them. It’s five perimeter guys on the floor and it don’t feel like their running sets they’re just playing the game trying to see who has the advantage.

“It’s a different feeling playing against these guys.”

Trailing 76-50 with 7:43 left in the third quarter of Monday’s Game 5 loss, head coach Frank Vogel ventured outside his normal rotation and inserted Copeland in the lineup for his first real minutes of the series (and just his second appearance in five games). The move had Copeland at power forward and slid David West to center.

“It worked for us,” West said. “It got us back in the game so the scoreboard didn’t look as bad as it was. We were able to generate some offense with it.”

Teams have to honor Copeland’s shooting ability, which helped open up the driving lanes. Defensively it worked as well, as they matched the Hawks’ small-ball style.

“We’re a little bit quicker to recover to shooters off of screens and whatnot,” Copeland said as to why the lineup was effective. “Speed definitely helped us.”

Copeland was disappointed in himself that it took him five shots to find a rhythm, but then he connected on his final two 3-pointers. All said and done, he was a team-best +17 while he on the floor, one of just three Indiana players with a positive plus/minus.

With that said, does he expect to be in the rotation in Game 6?

“My job is to stay ready and when my number is called, to go out and play,” Copeland said. “If he wants me to play, I’ll play. If I don’t, I’ll cheer my teammates on. It’s not about me…and whatever coach says, I believe in. I trust coach.”

Coach Vogel said he saw some good things with that unit, but added at practice on Tuesday afternoon that “I’m not going to talk a lot about what adjustments or potential lineup changes we could make until game time.”

The biggest knock with Copeland’s game has been his defense. That, and the depth at the ‘4’ position with West and Luis Scola, are the primary reasons he’s been left on the bench with his shooting shirt on for much of the season.

Copeland, a very thoughtful and positive guy by nature, admitted that the ‘poor defender’ label annoys him.

“I’m not Ron Artest in his prime or nothing like that but I don’t feel like a liability by any means,” he said. “I feel like I’m a solid defender. I have a lot to learn, I have a lot of growing to do and I think I will continue to get better. I think just the fact that my offense stands out a little bit more that they say ‘It’s not his offense so it’s got to be his defense.’

“The way they talk about me sometimes I’m like, ‘It’s not that bad.’”

The support he’s received all season long from Pacers fans has been fascinating. Copeland calls it “surreal.” Frequently at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, there have been loud chants of, “We want Copeland!” and then loud roars any time he heads to the scorer’s table.

“It’s a tremendous blessing to have people pulling for you,” he said. “I don’t even know how to comment on that. I’m just extremely appreciative that so many people have been in my corner all year long.”

Neither the Pacers nor the Hawks has been able to string together consecutive wins in this best-of-seven series, as every game has been about adjustments. The Pacers believe the loser in the previous game has an advantage in the next game for that very reason. Vogel is loyal to his players, sometimes to a fault, but the key to this series may be his willingness to stick with what’s working as their backs are against the wall.

“The floor was just so open, so spaced out that it was hard for them to be in gaps and help,” George added. “I liked that lineup that we had on the floor.”

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