Pacers’ Transition Game Fuels Recent Offensive Explosion

by Manny Randhawa | @MannyRsports

January 19, 2014 | 12:39 a.m.

Following their 106-92 win over the Clippers Saturday night, the Pacers are averaging 113 points per game over their last three contests. Their average margin of victory over that span is 22 points after demolishing the Kings and Knicks before Los Angeles had the misfortune of coming to town.

For a team that only reached triple digits on the scoreboard 10 times in the previous 36 games and went into Saturday ranked 20th in the NBA with an average of 97.9 points per game, that’s quite a bump in offensive output.

“I think we’re adding pieces to our offense,” said Paul George, who has had a big hand in Indiana’s recent point surge, posting 36 on 12-of-17 shooting Saturday. “The transition and playing up-tempo is an area that we’ve never really had here. So that’s a new area for us and a reason why we’ve been able to put points on the board, because we’re trying to attack early and get easy offense flowing and get guys going early.”

The transition piece that the Pacers have added to the jig saw puzzle of their season has been sparked by the aggressive play of Lance Stephenson, who likes to push the ball up the court as soon as he gets his hands on a rebound, often taking it coast to coast with his flair for the dramatic.

“Lance has a lot to do with it,” George said. “You’ve seen it the past three games, he’s been well in the 20’s (in points). He has a lot to do with it, and it just flows whenever he gets going. We know we’ve got to run with him when he’s out there making plays.”

Stephenson – who had a career-high 28 points against the Knicks on Thursday – scored 22 against the Clippers Saturday. Thanks in part to his usual quick pace the Pacers outscored the Clippers – the team that came into Saturday's action with the fourth-highest average in fast break points per game (16.9) – by an 18-6 margin.

“I feel like we’re pushing the ball,” said Stephenson. “We’re being unselfish, we’re hitting the open man, and we’re ready to shoot. We’re prepared to shoot at all times; we don’t hesitate and I think that’s a big part of why we’re scoring so much.”

“Lance is the main guy in terms of creating tempo for us,” David West said. “Guys are doing a good job of completing possessions and ultimately trying to up our percentage in those plays where we have advantages on the break.”

Head coach Frank Vogel wants his squad to generate up-tempo style offense when the situation warrants it, encouraging his players to get out on the break and run. And with Stephenson providing the spark, the engine is starting to hum.

“Coach tells us he doesn’t want to call the play,” George said. “And that means he wants us to attack early … it’s about the feel of the game. There’s moments where a play needs to be called, and there’s moments when he lets us go out and play.”

Those “go out and play” moments have become more frequent in recent games. Entering Saturday, the Pacers ranked 22nd in the league with 11.1 fast break points per contest, but over the last three games they’re averaging 16.7, with 25 against the Kings last Tuesday.

“Coach lets us play,” Stephenson said. “He lets us play our game and he puts us in positions where we can succeed. He trusts everybody on the floor, so we just get the rebound and push it, find the open man, and if you’ve got it, go.”

Coupled with Stephenson’s aggressiveness, another reason for the Pacers’ transition success has been the creation of turnovers, something Indiana is a little more used to.

“This is a greedy defensive unit,” George said. “ … That’s really been the key. We’ve got defenders here that get out and make plays, and can get us going in transition that gets us easy buckets.”

“A lot of this stuff is generated from our defense, being extra aggressive,” West added.

Since pushing the Miami Heat to seven games in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals to catapult themselves onto the national stage, the Pacers have been viewed as an elite defensive team that has the potential to win a title with an average offense because of that other-worldly defensive prowess.

But if this new element to Indiana’s game continues to bear fruit the way it has over the past three games, the Pacers could be even scarier than the rest of the league thought – if that’s possible.

“We’re becoming an offensive juggernaut,” Danny Granger said. “At times, we’ve struggled with our offensive efficiency, but once we move the ball the way we do and pass the way we do and cut the way we do, it’s hard to stop us.”

While three games an offensive juggernaut does not make, the Pacers may be hitting their stride on both ends of the floor as they head west for a five-game road trip. It remains to be seen whether their recent transition game will have staying power, but either way we’ll have a lasting image of it from Saturday night.

It came courtesy of George after he stole a Darren Collison pass in the fourth quarter. As he sprinted alone toward the other end of the floor, he made the split-second decision to throw down his most sensational dunk to date: a 360 hammer.

“That was just instinctively,” George said. “I just wanted to put on a show for the fans who are always coming out and supporting us … It was spur-of-the-moment.”

No pre-planning. No practicing that dunk pregame. Just pure instinct, kind of like what Stephenson displays so often when he creates on a fast break, comprising a good-sized chunk of Indiana’s recent offense.

But if you think Stephenson is satisfied, think again.

“I think we can get better,” he said. “We’re learning each game and we’re getting better and better each game. So I feel like we’ve got more to work on and we can get better.”

The Pacers can get better. Good luck to you, NBA.

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