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Turner Offers Best Hope for Improvement

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

His numbers aren't what anyone expected them to be, certainly not what anyone in his world hoped they would be, and probably not what they need to be if the improbable is to occur.

So, do the Pacers need to find a way for Myles Turner to become more involved in their playoff series with Cleveland? Or does he need to find a way to involve himself?

That's as big a storyline as any heading into Game 3 of the opening-round series Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Pacers were tantalizingly close to beating the Cavaliers in the first two games in Cleveland, and don't seem to need major improvement or revision to flip the scoreboard.

While most of the analysis, professional and otherwise, of the first two games has been devoted to issues such as the Pacers' defensive strategies, shot selection and composure, the likeliest method for them to play better is for Turner to play better. Nothing dramatic or unprecedented, just something along the lines of his performance during the regular season.

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Turner averaged 8.5 points on 36 percent shooting in the first two games against the Cavs, along with 6.5 rebounds. That's well short of his regular season average of 14.5 points on 51 percent shooting, and 7.2 rebounds. That's even short of his averages in last season's playoff series with Toronto, when, as a 20-year-old rookie who started only four of the seven games, he averaged 10.3 points on 46.5 percent shooting.

Turner put the onus on himself following Monday night's loss, in which he scored six points on 3-of-10 field goals. He didn't remove it after practice on Wednesday, but the issue remains more complicated than that.

"I just need to read (situations) a little better," Turner said after being last off the court. "(Paul George) is being trapped a lot and there are open areas I need to flash to. At the same time, when the playoffs come you don't run a lot of plays. There are more reads, and just doing what has to be done. It's just getting used to the atmosphere."

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Turner's offensive options are limited by his limited post-up skills. He rarely looks to score with his back to the basket, so if he doesn't have open shots on the perimeter his scoring opportunities mostly have to come from tip-ins. He has looked uncomfortable with the ball at times, such as on a crucial possession in Game 1 when he found himself with the ball near the foul line and was stripped by Kyrie Irving with 1:05 remaining.

The Pacers still had a chance to win the game on the final possession, but every possession counts in a close playoff game and Turner's miscue was relevant to the outcome, as was his general decline in production.

Production can be measured in ways beyond box score numbers, however. For Turner, there are ways to be involved other than shooting.

"He's always involved," Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. "Even if he's not playing with the ball. The pick-and-rolls, he's involved. When they're trapping, he's involved. He's always involved on both ends of the floor.

"He has to make reads, though."

Turner's play is closely linked to that of Paul George, who has stepped up his production in the first two games. George has averaged 30.5 points, taking 19.5 shots per game, and has done a better job of attacking the basket. If Turner is screening for him, that means fewer shots for Turner. Jeff Teague and Lance Stephenson control the ball much of the time they're in the game, and also have been getting the ball into the foul lane. Turner, in the Pacers' halfcourt sets, is more likely to be behind them than in front of them in those situations.

What it comes down to for all concerned: court awareness.

"That's for Coach to draw up and for Myles to see," George said of Turner's involvement. "He knows what areas we need help in. As a group, we've got to be there to help him and tell him what we need and be more vocal. Everybody has to see it. Coach has to see it, Myles has to see it, and go from there."

Of course, there's always rebounding. Turner, like everyone else, is free to crash the offensive boards in search of stray rebounds for put-backs. His positioning on the perimeter of the offense often makes that more difficult, but scoring off the missed shots of teammates is a valuable weapon.

Turner had four offensive rebounds in Game 1 and one in Game 2. The Pacers have scored just once off those five opportunities, on Turner's tip-in midway through the fourth quarter of Game 2. List that among the many "little things" the Pacers have to do to win in this series.

Among the bigger things is rebounding in general. Turner had 13 rebounds in the first two games, tied with George for the team lead. The Pacers will take every one of those they can get, and Turner is the primary candidate to get them.

"We have to be more physical in the paint," McMillan said. "It's not just Myles, it's all our guys. It's our bigs, our guards. With LeBron (James), you can't be soft. Pound them, make him work to get on the offensive glass."

That's another way to be involved. Turner says he's up for it.

"They're a beatable team," he said. "We've been close every time we've played them. We just have to finish the game.

"Just put our nose to the grindstone, just draw a line in the sand and just do it. This time of the year there's not much to draw up. You go out there and execute and do it."


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