Regularly throughout the NBA playoffs, we’ll be checking in with former Raptors head coach Butch Carter for an insider’s perspective on the X’s and O’s that lead to W’s and L’s. Today, Coach Carter breaks down just what makes the Indiana Pacers the least predictable team in this year’s second season.
The problem when evaluating the Indiana Pacers is that their losses can be so terrible you don’t think they’ll ever be able to recover from them. And then they do. Throughout the playoffs they’ve shown a resiliency that, simply put, is not normal. Without a doubt it’s made them the toughest team to predict.
The Pacers turned the ball over 17 times in Game 3 on Saturday, and they did it against the No. 1 transition team in the NBA in the Miami Heat, who excel at scoring off of turnovers. Dead-ball turnovers (for example, a player dribbling the ball off his foot and out of bounds), where the other team has to inbound the ball, don’t hurt you as bad because they at least give you the opportunity to set your defence. But Indiana’s Game 3 turnovers happened in live-ball situations that led directly to scoring opportunities for Miami. Give up the ball to the Heat like that and they will throw the touchdown pass, which almost always leads to an easy basket.
Utilizing, even embracing, the touchdown pass in that scenario comes down to more than simple opportunism; it’s is an attacking technique that a team needs to work on in order to use effectively. I became accustomed to it watching a great high school team that always played fast. They would practice it, and the key was that the passer tried to throw the ball to the lane, which would—by design—lead the receiver right to the hoop for an open layup directly after the catch. If you’re not throwing it to the lane, you throw it directly to the player up the court, just like it’s a pass in football.
That being said, the turnovers were largely out of character for Indiana. Amongst themselves, the Pacers need to believe that Game 3 was an aberration. It was their first road game of the series and they’ve done this before, going into another team’s gym and looking so bad.
Ray Allen: The ultimate “red shirt guy”
In my last column, I wrote at length about the importance of keeping track of a hot shooter in transition—what I call the red shirt guy—and that’s precisely what Ray Allen represented in Game 3.
Frank Vogel played his players extended minutes in Game 3 and they struggled mentally. That happens, but you have to remember that those struggles absolutely cannot lead to defensive lapses. When the Pacers are not emotionally connected, they make lapses that they haven’t made all year and, as we saw against Miami, that leads to Ray Allen doing his best Danny Green impression. It’s not a science: Ray Allen is making shots because he’s open!
Much like San Antonio with Green, it speaks to the maturity of the Miami Heat that they kept finding him.
The Curious Case of Lance Stephenson
Whatever Lance Stephenson does, I think, is ultimately a distraction meant to build up his personal image. The most important thing Stephenson can do—both for his team and his own future—is to lock D-Wade up, which isn’t exactly happening. In last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, he put handcuffs on Dwyane Wade. He has to do that again.
Stephenson does have a fairly unique role on the Pacers, though, in that he happens to be their leading rebounder—something Miami obviously needs to be mindful of. It’s uncommon for a shooting guard to lead his team in rebounding, but it’s not unheard of. That was the case when I played for the Indiana Hoosiers in college, because we didn’t have a natural centre to clean up the boards. So, on our team, the rule was that the bigs had to block out the other teams’ bigs, which created space for us to go in and get the basketball. It’s the same thing the Pacers are doing now, and it’s largely due to the lack of mobility on the part of Indiana’s bigs. Miami’s post players aren’t great rebounders either, but they also normally play in the short corner, so they’re a little further away from the basket—they’re not traditional block-to-block bigs. Combine those factors and it provides a guy like Stephenson with the opportunity to rebound at a high rate.
It’s a nice adjustment on Indiana’s part. They’re playing to their strengths and recognizing that the Heat bigs are more active. It will only hurt them if Miami is able to collect offensive rebounds and immediately throw the ball out to the perimeter for a three.
Again, it’s been hard to predict how this Pacers team will perform in any given game. They had Game 3 practically in the bag. They could have had a 20-point lead at the end of the first quarter, but instead allowed the Heat to make a big run and take control of the game. Now Indiana’s down 2-1 and playing on the road, knowing that they should have had Game 3. Now they have to go and reclaim something they gave away.
For more insight and analysis on the NBA playoffs, follow Coach Carter on Twitter @TOButchCarter