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Pacers Get Back to Basics

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

April 28, 2013, 7:22 PM

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The Pacers spread themselves around the court following their practice at Philips Arena Sunday afternoon to explain themselves to the media. Coach Frank Vogel at midcourt, by the scorer's table. David West in the corner by the tunnel leading to the team bus. Roy Hibbert on the opposite baseline. Paul George on the Pacers bench.

Their message was unanimous – far more cohesive, in fact, than their performance had been in Saturday's 90-69 loss to Atlanta. They were ashamed of how that game went, but hardly panic-stricken over it. And the strategies for bouncing back for Game 4 Monday evening are simple and fundamental.

“We just have to do what we do,” West said.

He meant what they usually did during the regular season, when they were one of the NBA's best defensive teams, and ran a balanced, disciplined halfcourt offense, as opposed to what they did on Saturday, when they shot 27 percent from the field and committed 22 turnovers.

Sunday morning's video session was more emotional than usual, with the coaches “really getting into us” according to Hibbert. The practice that followed was “sharp and chippy” according to one courtside viewer. Time will tell whether the edginess leads to a more focused performance on Monday, but it seemed the most appropriate prevailing mood.

The Pacers don't plan any lineup changes or major strategic alterations for Monday's game. Mostly it's a matter of better execution of the basics of basketball. Screening, for example. It was difficult for George, who scored 16 points on 11 field goal attempts, to get more and better shots because his teammates didn't set screens that were effective enough to get him open. The same flaw made it more difficult for guards George Hill and Lance Stephenson, who combined to hit 2-of-15 shots.

“It doesn't matter what we do in terms of a plan if we're not going to screen and execute well,” Vogel said.

“As a parent, your kids will get away with whatever you allow them to get away with. As a coaching staff, you have to make sure you're hammering at details and being sure they execute what they're supposed to execute.”

Lack of execution also showed in Hibbert's game on Saturday. He was scoreless in the first half, reviving memories of his scoreless game at Philips during the regular season, but had eight points and five rebounds in the third quarter, when he scored the Pacers' first six points of the period. The Hawks moved him away from the low block too easily in the first half, forcing him to take just four shots, most of them off-balance. He plans to be third-quarter Roy on Monday, as opposed to first-half Roy.

“I was playing in slow motion,” he said. “I wasn't playing with a lot of assertiveness. We looked at it on film and I saw what I did wrong and I'll try to fix my part of it tomorrow.”

Defensively, the Pacers have yet to play well in the series. They allowed Atlanta to shoot 50 percent from the field in Game 1 and 49.4 percent in Game 2, but scored well enough to mask that deficiency. Atlanta hit 50 percent of its shots in the first half of Game 3 as well, by which time it had taken a 24-point lead.

Part of changing that trend is applying more force, but part of it also is executing a better offense. Missed jumpers and turnovers tend to lead to fastbreak baskets, which inflate shooting percentages.

“Our offensive execution was our worst defense,” Vogel said.

The Pacers' interior defense wasn't much better. George will need help guarding Smith when he posts up and goes to the basket, and the overall help defense will need to improve as well.

“We still haven't played great defense in this series,” West said. “We're still waiting on a great defensive performance. But it's about taking care of that basketball, man. I don't know what else to say. (Twenty-two) turnovers is way too many for a team that lives in transition and needs transition threes and transition dunks to be effective. We played into their hands.”

Amid their resolve, the Pacers maintained an air of optimism. Vogel said he considered his team the better team and predicted a victory on Monday if it controls the tempo and executes well. As he and anyone else who's watched the NBA playoffs for more than a few years knows, blowouts are not uncommon, and don't necessarily have long-term impact.

Assistant coach Brian Shaw, for example, played on an Orlando team that defeated Boston 124-77 in the first game of a first-round series in 1995. The Celtics came back and won Game 2, 99-92, and Orlando won the series 3-1. Blowouts happen. What matters more is the response to them.

“If we're made of what we think we're made of, we should be mad, because we did get blown out,” Shaw said. “It's only one game, and that's the one thing we can take away from it, whether it's a one-point loss or a 30-point loss. It didn't even up the series. We're still up 2-1.”

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