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Getting Back to Basics

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

November 16, 2012

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The impotent offense, the putrid shooting and the obvious confusion that had cast so much doubt on the Pacers season were all washed away in about an hour during the Pacers' game-day shootaround on Friday.

Coach Frank Vogel went back to the basics in his offense, calling fewer plays and allowing his players more freedom to move and react to the defense. It resulted in a 103-83 win over Dallas at Bankers Life Fieldhouse that was the Pacers' first double-figure win of the season and offered the first glimmer of hope that Danny Granger's absence won't send them reeling back into lottery world.

Six players scored between 11 and 15 points, the 47 percent field goal accuracy was the best since the opening-game win at Toronto and the enthusiasm of last season was back. If they hadn't missed 12 foul shots, it would have been even more one-sided.

It was only one game, sure, and might turn out to be an aberration, and yes, their record is only 4-6. But for one night, at least, it had the aura of a turning point.

"It felt like a new Pacer team out there," said point guard George Hill, who finished with 15 points, five rebounds and seven assists. "If you were watching the game I'm sure it didn't look like the same Pacer team that's been playing the last nine games. Different energy, different pace on the offensive end, demanding to be solid at the defensive end – that's what gives the fans hope and a lot of urgency to come back out here and support us. We just have to continue doing what we've been doing, trusting each other and playing that type of basketball."

The Pacers had lost five of their six previous games, a slide that ended with a thud on Wednesday at Milwaukee, where their performance was much worse than their 14-point loss indicated. They had the NBA's lowest-scoring (87.8) and worst-shooting (.398) offense at that point, so, enough being enough, Vogel revamped the offense in Friday's morning practice session. To his credit, he predicted the result when he met with the media before that night's game.

"We're getting back to the fundamentals of our system that we've gotten away from," he said, speaking confidently and deliberately. "We're going to implement a change that can happen immediately in terms of more flow in our offense.

"It's a subtle change we're putting in that can happen immediately. We know execution will take time, but the force and speed with which we play and the movement we should exhibit should happen right away."

And it did. David West drove with force and speed to the basket 13 seconds after tip-off for a layup, sparking a 7-0 lead. It didn't last long – hey, bad habits die hard – but the Pacers closed the half strong. Hill hit a jumper that drew a foul from former teammate Darren Collison with seven seconds left. Hill missed the free throw, but Roy Hibbert got an easy tip-in to make it a one-point game at the half.

An 11-3 run to start the second half forced a Dallas timeout, which was followed by another 11-3 run that forced another Dallas timeout. The lead was 70-57 by then, and never threatened.

So that's all it took? One one-hour session on the morning of a game? Maybe Vogel should go to work on the deficit. The question remains, however, why the Pacers had ever gotten away from what worked for them at the end of last season in the first place. Granger's absence apparently had caused the coaches to try to overcompensate strategically, the players had contributed by failing to execute the plays and the lack of practice time had doubled-down on the issues.

"Playing so many games in so many days, you always have slippage," Vogel said. "That slippage was showing up on the offensive end. That's what this league is about, guarding against slippage."

The challenge will be that much greater with six of the next eight games on the road, and a continuation of what happened on Friday will be contingent on further contributions from Hibbert. He had been at the literal center of the slow start, averaging just 8.2 points on 39 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent shooting from the foul line.

He had 14 points against the Mavericks, hitting just 5-of-15 shots, but still offered hope. He started slowly, missing his only shot attempt in the first 10 minutes, had two points at halftime and had hit just 2-of-10 shots heading into the fourth quarter. For three quarters, his demeanor had ranged from exasperated to anguished.

He came alive in the fourth period, scoring seven points on 3-of-5 shooting. The first basket was a tip, but the second was a 10-foot jump hook that drew a foul and was converted to a three-point play and the third was a 10-foot one-hander. Time and box scores will tell if it was the start of something good.

"We've continued to emphasize to his teammates that we're going to start clicking when he gets going," Vogel said. "He's going to start going. He took a big step tonight. He has stretches every year where he struggles. He's going to be fine. We have to continue getting him the ball."

Hibbert acknowledged afterward that he was frustrated by his lack of touches in the previous offense. He entered the game ranked fourth on the team in shot attempts, with just four more than backup Gerald Green. He had averaged less than 10 shots per game, so getting 15 on Friday was a step forward.

"I feel I can affect the game when I have the ball in my hands," he said. "Obviously I wasn't getting the looks before, but I was trying to stay positive. It's a long season and, you know, you're going to have ups and downs and I've been having a lot of downs lately.

"Some of the plays we were running, the other team knows it and they make it really difficult for me to catch (the ball). Hopefully I don't have to work so hard to get the ball now. I'm happy with the change. It's a subtle change, but it helped."

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