Practice: Pacers Taking Playoff Mentality

March 11, 2019 - After practice on Monday, the Pacers talked about rebounding from Sunday's loss and taking a playoff mentality from here until the end of the regular season.

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Practice: Pacers Taking Playoff Mentality

March 11, 2019 - After practice on Monday, the Pacers talked about rebounding from Sunday's loss and taking a playoff mentality from here until the end of the regular season.
Mar 11, 2019  |  01:22

Pacers Seeking the Fine Lines of their Offense

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

"You've got to make shots, simple as that," Nate McMillan was saying on Monday, which obviously is true. But the deeper question for the Pacers as they go about responding to decisive defeats to two of the Eastern Conference elites is how to get the shots that are easier to make.

It's been a season-long theme, one McMillan has referenced often with his calls for better ball movement. The losses to Milwaukee last Thursday and Philadelphia on Sunday provided evidence the issue has yet to be resolved with any degree of permanence, and remains an area in need of continued focus.

The deepest question, though, is one of interpretation. What exactly is a good shot? The right shot? Just who is responsible for the third-quarter lapses that collapsed their opportunity in the previous two games? The Pacers trailed by one point early in the third period at Milwaukee, but were down 12 by the end of it. They led Philadelphia by as many as 14 points in the second quarter and led 59-51 at halftime, but scored just 11 points in the third quarter and 30 in the second half, when they hit just 24 percent of their field goal attempts.

PLAYOFF PICTURE: Track the Pacers' Playoff Push »

Something went wrong, but what, exactly? That's where it gets vague. The bottom line seems to be a lack of patience — except for the times they need less patience.

"Sometimes we might take a shot that might be a good shot but it might be quick in the shot clock," Thaddeus Young said following Monday's practice at St. Vincent Center. "We can use the shot clock a little more to get a better shot. We always use the term 'good to great.' Sometimes we might take a good shot but it's not the right shot at the time, even though it's a good shot. We might have a better shot passing it to the post or passing it to the corner.

"Good to great. If we continue to live and die by that motto. I think the sky's the limit for us."

Coaches and players always will have a different definition of good and great shots, however. The trick is to find a common ground that results in consistently good shots, rather than forced jumpers barely ahead of the shot clock buzzer.

"It is hard," Young said. "When we look at game tape, coaches tell us, 'That's a good shot. But you could have kicked it to the corner.' And you're like, 'But you just told me that's a good shot.'

"It's definitely hard, but sometimes you have to pass up a good shot to get a great shot. I'm a firm believer in getting the best shot possible. Coach always says, 'Play early or play late.' We have to continue to do that. If we don't have anything early we have to get into a good set, get into a good flow, and play late."

Complications can arise, though. The Pacers rank 28th in the NBA in possessions, at 101.3 per game. Atlanta leads with 108.1. The Hawks' 23-45 record tells you that quantity of possessions isn't everything, but it obviously helps to get more shots than the opponent if the shots are good ones, and most of the NBA's elite teams rank high in that category.

The Pacers are limited by the fact they are a below-average rebounding team, which limits their opportunities for easy transition baskets or putbacks. They also want to explore mismatches after opponents switch on defense, and that can take time. Too much time, sometimes.

"I've just got to have more awareness," point guard Darren Collison said. "Who's not switching, who's switching. We tend to move the ball a little too much against switches and then we're going against the shot clock."

In other words, patience can be a bad thing, too.

Domantas Sabonis

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

But a good thing is that one of the answers to many of the issues that caused the Pacers to lose five of their previous seven games has returned: Domantas Sabonis played in Philadelphia after missing the five previous games because of a sprained ankle. The rust was obvious. He hit just 1-of-7 field goal attempts and 7-of-12 free throws and committed five turnovers, but the return of the team's best rebounder and 60 percent field goal shooter who also happens to be one of its best passers can't hurt.

Sabonis' play on Sunday was affected by his foul trouble, which forced him to play in shorter bursts than intended and caused his ankle to tighten up each time he returned to the bench. His left ankle was sore when he woke up Monday morning, but he said he expects to feel better on Tuesday.

If he does, the Pacers likely will look better. But only if they walk the right side of the fine lines in their offense between shot selection and pace of play.

"The main thing is looking for each other," Sabonis said. "We have to go out there and look for each other and not think about yourself. We do that every single game, but sometimes when the game is on the line we get away from that. It's normal; everybody wants to win. We just have to get back to playing how we used to."

The 19-point loss to Milwaukee and the 17-point loss to Philadelphia could have been demoralizing for the Pacers. Those two games were the first of a challenging stretch of schedule that threatens their hold on homecourt advantage for the opening round of the playoffs, and the nationally-televised results were eye-openers.

They were decidedly upbeat following their video session and conversation with the coaches on Monday, however.

"We didn't play well enough to win," McMillan said. "But just as we've done all season long, you get yourself ready for the next game. You never get too high and you try not to get too low when you've lost a game."

And learn from it, if you can.

"This is only going to make us better," Collison said. "It's good for us to experience this right now before the playoffs."


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.