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Inside the Locker Room: Halftime Adjustments

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

November 26, 2013

The Pacers are 13-1, tied with the San Antonio Spurs for the best record in the NBA. They have a 6.5-game lead on Chicago in the Central Division and are two games up on Miami for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, which is their regular season goal.

In nine of their 14 games thus far, they’ve walked back to their sacred space in the arena with less points on the scoreboard than their opponent. In eight of those nine instances, they’ve returned at the end of the game victors.

Typically, the drop off comes towards the end of the first and through the second quarter. Like magic, the Pacers return to the court from intermission and put on a show – and that’s a big reason why they’ve won all but one game this season.

“It’s a game of runs,” said center Roy Hibbert. “The starters may have a good quarter and then it’s the benches responsibility and sometimes the starters come out slow and the bench picks us up. It’s give and take. It happens.”

“I give great halftime speeches,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said, tongue in cheek, almost three weeks ago after they came back to beat the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 8. “These guys really respond to my words. It's all because of me.”

On the season, Indiana has been outscored by 35 points in the first half. In the final two quarters, however, they are the highest-scoring team in the league: +166. Pacers swingman Paul George is top scorer in the league after halftime, averaging 15.7 points (of his 24.3 points per game).

Vogel: “I actually have Vince Lombardi glasses that I put on, with the hat, and I just say, ‘What the hell is going on out there!”

During the game, assistant Dan Burke, who’s been with the team since 1997, jots down plays and the time in which they occurred. Then at timeouts, he passes them to Shawn Windle, the team’s strength and conditioning coach and he runs them back to the locker room. There, assistant video coordinator Jhared Simpson cuts the requested plays and puts them in a folder on the computer.

“Whatever is bogging us down or giving us problems defensively,” Burke said of how he selects the clips. “80 or 90 percent of what I send back are defense. It could be transition, it could be we’re not smash down on the weak side, we’re not doing well on blitzes, our pick-and-roll defense.”

At the conclusion of the first half and on the walk back to their respective areas, Burke informs Vogel of what he plans to cover. Vogel may make suggestions like, ‘let’s look at middle drives.’ The Pacers’ head coach then meets with the other two coaches, Nate McMillan and Popeye Jones, while Burke filters out the critical edits to go over with the players.

After a few minutes have gone by, players have dropped by their lockers, made a pit-stop to the restroom and grabbed a drink, the coaches enter the video room.

“You can hear them in there,” Burke said of the players. “‘We got to play our game. We got to do what we do and we got to do it better.’ That’s always going to be our first adjustment.”

At home games, they have a nice video room adjacent to the locker room. They do not watch video or teach inside the player’s locker area. When Jim O’Brien became the Pacers’ coach in 2007, he requested that the player’s lounge, which had leather couches, televisions, video consoles and an espresso machine, be altered.

“He wanted to create a classroom,” Burke recalled O’Brien’s decision. “He didn’t want to show film in the player’s room. That was their room, give them their privacy and let them have their space.”

Vogel has kept it that way. Prior to O’Brien, the Pacers would show clips on a screen that dropped down from the ceiling in the locker room area.

As the players sit in their comfortable executive chairs, Vogel will share his opening remarks about how the half went before turning it over to Burke. The four-to-eight clips that he pulls up usually lasts three minutes, then they break it down and head back out to the floor.

In talking with players and coaches, they’re not concerned with their first half output. Though they’re 13-1, there are many areas they still want to improve upon and this is just one of them.

“I don’t know if it’s a matter of halves,” Burke said. “A lot of it’s our style. I don’t think we’re playing any less hard in the first half than we are in the second half, but I do think we are sharper. I think we do ratchet it up a notch. Our style of play, guys like David West hitting the other team, I think our physical kind of wears teams down a bit, too.

“In Boston, David picked his spots when to trap, and he trapped (Jordan) Crawford. I remember the play, we were down 52-47. David jumped out on a pick-and-roll on Crawford and got the steal, a breakaway layup and Crawford (who made his first nine shots and finished with 24 points) wasn’t the same after that. Sometimes, it’s just that one play. Games turn on a trifle, we say.”

So maybe it’s not inspirational speeches from Vogel, or Burke’s clips. The Pacers are a grind-it-out type of team, one that prides itself in playing 48 minutes and getting after you defensively. They stay even keel, just like West and the coaches always stress. By the end of the year, they hope to have played over 100 games.

“We’re a veteran team,” Hibbert said. “We’ve been through it before so we always pick it up in the third.”

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