Practice: Pacers Facing Must-Win Game 4

April 20, 2019 - After practice on Saturday, the Pacers talked about the mood of the team as they approach a do-or-die Game 4 with the Boston Celtics.

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Practice: Pacers Facing Must-Win Game 4

April 20, 2019 - After practice on Saturday, the Pacers talked about the mood of the team as they approach a do-or-die Game 4 with the Boston Celtics.
Apr 20, 2019  |  02:02

Pacers Need More Offense to Ward Off Extinction

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

By Saturday afternoon, all appeared normal on the Pacers' practice court. Players were smiling and talking freely as they went through shooting drills as if it was a routine practice.

They aren't in the midst of a routine challenge, however. Down 3-0 to Boston in their first-round playoff series following Friday's 104-96 loss, the Pacers face the season's ultimate must-win game on Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Lose, and the season is over. And for a team stocked with seven veteran players with expiring contracts, "over" takes on added meaning.

No NBA has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series, although it's happened in the NHL and Major League Baseball. The ABA Pacers nearly did it in 1974 when the last team to include their All-Star nucleus of Mel Daniels, Roger Brown, Freddie Lewis, and George McGinnis dropped the first three games of their second-round series to Utah, came back to win the next three, but dropped Game 7 in Salt Lake City by 22 points. Three NBA teams also have come back from a 3-0 deficit to force a Game 7 before losing.

The Pacers are in no position to be thinking about making history by winning four straight games, however. Avoiding the ignominy of being swept out of the playoffs, with the added jolt of it happening on their home court, is enough of a challenge at the moment.

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"They'll have us on TNT as the Gone Fishin' cast," Thaddeus Young said. "We've got to come out and play."

Play together, to be more precise.

The Pacers' defense has held up reasonably well against a dynamic Celtics team that features a superstar point guard with a championship pedigree in Kyrie Irving, who is averaging 25.3 points and eight assists in the series, along with two other budding stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and a finally-healthy former All-Star in Gordon Hayward.

The Pacers' offense, however, has been a mess for at least one quarter in all three games, producing droughts that have left them parched on the scoreboard. They're averaging just 87 points while shooting .398 from the field, which isn't enough to overcome any amount of solid defense.

Consider:

  • They led Boston by seven points at halftime of Game 1, but proceeded to hit just 2-of-19 shots in the third quarter and missed their first six of the fourth.
  • They led by 12 points with 11:20 left in Game 2, but hit just three of their final 16 shots.
  • They led by five after Myles Turner hit a 3-pointer to open the second half in Game 3, but hit just four of the final 22 shots in the third quarter. They still were within two points with 5:08 remaining, but from there committed a turnover and then missed seven of their final nine shots.

The answer to offensive behavior is always better judgement. They've either forced bad shots, passed up good shots, or missed open teammates far too often during their dry spells. And, once things start to go bad, they miss too many of the good shots they get.

Mostly, though, it's a matter of getting ball and player movement that enables good shots, a recurring theme throughout their season.

Cory Joseph

Photo Credit: Jessica Hoffman

"We have to continue to share the ball throughout the whole game," Darren Collison said. "Even though we missed some shots (on Friday), we could have got better looks."

Nate McMillan's coaching mantra is the Three Cs: calm, clear, connected. He dropped them all into an answer about the offense following Saturday's practice.

"You've got to be connected out there," he said. "It's more about us being connected and not getting frustrated or allowing the pressure to build up where emotionally you're drunk out there. You have to be able to get back to calm, so when things aren't going right you can play with a clear mind."

McMillan showed his players edited offensive and defensive clips Saturday morning, and then had them watch the second half in its entirety to see how it all went wrong.

"You want them to see the flow," he said. "What was a good shot, what was a momentum play, where we missed some guys. You learn from that visual of the flow of the game, as opposed to watching edited clips."

The Pacers' emotions will be as important as their execution, of course. They could give in and call it a season, comforted by the knowledge they exceeded general expectations after Victor Oladipo was lost for the season after playing 36 games. (Oladipo, by the way, arrived at St. Vincent Center at the end of Saturday's session.) Or, they could go all out to save face before the home fans.

That's what they say they plan to do.

"We definitely feel if we stay patient, stay poised...and continue to just fight...that's the biggest thing," Young said. "Fight, fight, fight. It will put us in a better position."

The Pacers have a recent history of doing so. Two years ago they trailed Cleveland 3-0 after blowing a 26-point lead in Game 3. They took Game 4 into the final minute, but lost by four points. In 2011 they trailed Chicago 3-0 but won Game 4 at The Fieldhouse, 89-84. They went on to lose Game 5 in Chicago by 27 points.

For a team that has often and accurately touted its resiliency this season, Sunday's game should bring out a similar response.

"If it doesn't, we shouldn't be playing this game," Young said.


Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at askmontieth@gmail.com and you could be featured in his next mailbag.

Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.

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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