Pacers on Handling Pelicans' Frontcourt Duo

Nov. 6, 2017 - Pacers guard Darren Collison and coach Nate McMillan discuss Tuesday's matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans and their two All-Star big men, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis.

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Pacers on Handling Pelicans' Frontcourt Duo

Nov. 6, 2017 - Pacers guard Darren Collison and coach Nate McMillan discuss Tuesday's matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans and their two All-Star big men, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis.
Nov 6, 2017  |  01:13

Pacers Learn From Losses

Nov. 6, 2017 - Pacers forward Myles Turner and head coach Nate McMillan talked about the areas of focus at practice following Indiana's road trip that ended on a sour note with a loss to New York.
Nov 6, 2017  |  01:28

Pacers Hoping to Learn How to Score in Closing Time

by Mark Montieth Writer

Their last two defeats have raised a lot of questions about and for the Pacers.

How do they protect late-game leads? How do they get better shots on crucial possessions? Who is their go-to guy on those possessions? What lineup combination should be on the floor?

So many questions, but just one answer — and it happens to be a non-answer:

"We're still learning," coach Nate McMillan said. "It's part of the process."

The process, logically, should take a while for a team as young and new to one another as the Pacers. They dropped to 5-5 with Sunday's loss to New York at Madison Square Garden, which isn't all that bad for a team few people thought could finish with even a .500 record this season. But given the victories over San Antonio, Sacramento, and Cleveland that began their week, the road losses to Philadelphia on Friday and the Knicks on Sunday felt like letdowns.

Particularly when the Pacers were in position to win both games in the final minutes.

They took a 19-point lead over the Knicks with 1:43 left in the third quarter, a margin shrunk to 12 by the end of the period. Their lead was back to 16 early in the fourth quarter, and was still at two with 2 1/2 minutes left before a late offensive collapse left the door open for the Knicks to complete their comeback.

Their final five possessions consisted of Victor Oladipo's missed 3-pointer, Darren Collison's turnover, Bojan Bogdanovic's missed 3-pointer, Oladipo's made layup, and Oladipo's missed 3-pointer.

Friday's loss at Philadelphia was nearly as agonizing. They led 108-105 after consecutive field goals by Oladipo, the second with 4:08 remaining. From that point, however, their offense produced consecutive missed 3-pointers by Thaddeus Young, Domantas Sabonis' made jumper, Sabonis' offensive foul, Collison's blocked layup, and missed 3-pointers by Oladipo and Collison.

The sum total of the game-closing possessions in those losses was two made field goals out of 10 attempts, and two turnovers.

"It's a learning process," Collison said. "I don't know one team that's been put together (so recently) and they close out games every single night. It takes a while to see who's the closer, where we're trying to get (something) out of the offense, the patience we're trying to get. It's a learning process.

"I think it's going to get better over time. If and when we make the playoffs, hopefully we know what to do in those situations around that time."

The primary takeaway from the late-game possessions against the Sixers and Knicks is that seven of the 10 field goal attempts were 3-pointers, and that none of them were made. That suggests an offense lacking patience, and/or execution.

Part of execution is adjusting to defensive adjustments, something both Myles Turner and McMillan brought up following Monday's practice at St. Vincent Center. The Knicks began switching on screens in the second half, and the Pacers didn't have the patience to attack the mismatches that resulted. They also lacked the patience to move the defense before setting those screens.

"We could have moved the ball a little more," Collison said. "We made one or two passes and went right into our pick-and-rolls. We could have moved the defense more and then gone into what we wanted to do."

Or, decline to shoot after every pick-and-roll and reverse the ball for a better shot. McMillan thought his players forced too many shots off screens, often penetrating into the lane where the 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis was waiting. Porzingis blocked six Pacers shots on Sunday, four in the second half.

"You have to adapt to conditions," McMillan said. "As I explained to them, on the freeway, you can go 70 on a sunny day, but if there's ice and snow out there, you have to adapt to that. We were executing our offense in the first half, then all of a sudden they changed their defense, they went to switching, we still tried to go 70 miles per hour. You have to slow down, be patient and make your reads in situations like that."

It's a painful lesson, but not surprising. The Pacers have gone through similar learning processes in the past whenever a "new" team began the season, whether it was because of an overhauled roster or a new coach. Larry Brown's first team started 1-6, and Larry Bird's first team started 2-5. This is Nate McMillan's second team, but he has half-a-dozen new players on his roster and had to reintroduce Turner into the lineup on Friday after his center missed seven games with a concussion suffered in the opener.

Turner was solid against the Knicks on Sunday, with 15 points and four rebounds in 24 minutes, but isn't close to 100 percent. When will that happen?

"I couldn't tell you," he said Monday. "Right now, I'm nowhere near where I want to be. I'll know it when I feel it. Hopefully the next couple of games, I'll feel it."

Given the shot distribution of the closing moments of the last two games, it's apparent Oladipo is the designated go-to player on clutch possessions. He leads the Pacers with a 23.8-point scoring average, shooting 48 percent from the field, including 45 percent from the 3-point line, and 86 percent from the foul line.

It's not, however, as obvious a strategy as going to Reggie Miller back in the day or to Paul George last season. All of the Pacers' starters are capable offensive players, and are legitimate 3-point threats. Which means Oladipo doesn't have to force anything.

Asked if he has a go-to player yet, McMillan mentioned Oladipo first, but then hedged.

"For the most part, we're going to be going through Victor — and Myles and Thaddeus and Bojan," he said, his voice trailing off. "We try to look at the situation and how guys are playing and try to take advantage of matchups. Take advantage of the weakest defender. If you need a three, we have a number of guys who can knock down threes.

"But when the game has been on the line we're going to give the ball to Victor a lot more in the fourth quarter."

Collison, the point guard who would be giving it to Oladipo most often, is OK with that. Within limits.

"Vic's our guy; he's our best scorer," Collison said. "We're going to live and die with Vic.

"But with the team we have, we don't have to rely on him. We have a lot of other guys who can make plays and make shots. We're a team that's going to do it by committee."

And as everyone knows, committees usually take a while to reach conclusions.

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Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.


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