Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
By now you’ve heard. The third quarter of last night’s game between the Pacers and Magic seems to have been the series turning point for Indiana. Down a bucket at the half, the Pacers came out in the third and cold-cocked the Magic to the tune of a 30-13 quarter that provided the final margin of victory.
The question going forward is exactly what to make of that run. Was it an outlier or a harbinger? Was it a case of regression — the Pacers just starting to perform how we figured they always would — or was it a case of the Pacers playing exceptionally?
To my eye, there were four reasons the Pacers came alive in the third: 1.) they mauled the Magic on the glass, 2.) they converted at the line, 3.) they snuffed out most of Orlando’s initial actions on pick-and-rolls, and 4.) George Hill began once more to resemble a professional basketball player. Of these, we’ll ignore Hill’s resurfacing, for the simple reason that I have no idea whether he will again net 16 points on 8 shots, as he had at the end of last night’s third quarter.
I’ll focus first on the fouls and the rebounding, because they’re really two sides of the same coin. I hate to point this out, but the Pacers only shot 28 free throws last night, which is a totally reasonable figure for a team playing with the sort of interior advantage the Pacers have. Even though, at times, during the third quarter it seemed there was a whistle on every play, the Magic really can’t argue with a 28-19 free throw disparity in favor of Indiana given the stylistic and personnel differences. The rebounding? Stay with me, because this is where things get grim.
Look, the Pacers are going to outrebound the Magic. Even in Game 1, Indiana was +5 on the boards. The Pacers are a strong rebounding outfit no matter how you slice it — a top-five team in raw per-game rebounding and in offensive rebound percentage. However, they simply bludgeoned Orlando on the offensive glass last night, corralling 37.5 percent of their own misses. While this seems like a shocking figure, nearly 8 percentage points above Indiana’s season average, when you consider the fact that Indiana’s offensive rebound percentage in the Magic’s Game 1 win was 30.6 percent, it’s hard to come to the conclusion the Magic will remedy this situation.
So it’s easy to say that the Pacer’s 15-1 rebound run in the third quarter is an outlier, but in all likelihood, it was just a pretty fast regression to what we’re likely to see for this series.
Well, okay, fine. I mean, nobody misses Dwight Howard and expects to outrebound a tough team. So the offensive execution, right? Surely the Magic’s anemic offense during last night’s third quarter can be fixed?
Well, yes and no. Re-watching on Synergy this morning, it’s clear that the Magic are capable of generating some good looks, but I’m not sure whether we can expect Orlando to be able to cash in on them given the Magic’s personnel and a few Pacers adjustments.
Early in the quarter, the Magic ran a successful set that had Jason Richardson curling off of a double screen, one on the baseline and one at the elbow. After the second screen, Richardson makes a hard dive to the rim and Turkoglu finds him from the opposite wing. Richardson layup. Smooth basketball. It works because the Pacers’ starting bigs, for all the shot-blocking and muscle that Hibbert and West combine to provide, aren’t that laterally quick. Two quick screens and a pass coming from the opposite side of the court can buy a decent finisher some space. After that, though, the Magic went away from these sets and started running a succession of screen-and-rolls that the Pacers had dead to rights.
Of course you can say that the Magic were always going to struggle against the Pacers perimeter defenders because they’re so long and active. In Game 1, the Magic sidestepped this problem a little bit by allowing Glen Davis to get the ball early after the screen and use his mobility to take advantage of Roy Hibbert. In Game 2, though, the Pacers’ hedges were quicker and the primary help defender did a great job of snuffing out the easy outlet pass. This became doubly true when Tyler Hansbrough entered the game. Hansbrough finished with four points and zero rebounds in a little over 18 minutes, but his foot speed on pick-and-roll recoveries suffocated the Magic offense.
And this is where the crucial issue comes up. The Magic succeeded in Game 1 by beating the Pacers’ help defenders to space. Orlando couldn’t do that at all in the second half last night.
Of course, Glen Davis averaged 23 minutes a game in the regular season and he’s averaging around 39 in this series. Davis, at his best, does not beat fleet-footed post defenders. Davis playing 39 minutes a night is not Davis at his best. He simply does not have the conditioning for it. Thus the screen-and-rolls that sometimes created promising space last night — primarily 2/5 pick-and-rolls with J.J. Redick as the primary handler — often ended in Davis dispiritingly attempting a runner over two defenders.
What’s troubling about this is that even when Redick remedied some of the earlier problems the Magic were having — more decisive turns off of the screen, crisper passes — the Pacers had no trouble recovering. The Magic just don’t have a viable screener who can beat the post defender in a pick-and-roll and there is no additional post presence to keep help in the lane so that a weak-side shooter can spot up. It’s a little bleak.
You never want to be Chicken Little about one game, but the Pacers exposed a huge problem last night in the Magic’s ability to generate offense. Stan Van Gundy needs strong pick-and-roll actions to make his offense work; not even the aforementioned double screens could work without something to keep the defense honest. And the Magic’s one potential screener, who lacks conditioning on his best nights, is playing a heavier load than he has all season.
So I guess the lesson from last night’s third quarter is this: the Magic do have some hope, so long as their reserve big man can get in the best shape of his life by tomorrow and figure out how to be an effective starting center.