Pacers 109, Wolves 99: Fight or flight
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Michael Gerard Tyson
Forget the Danny Granger incident in the third quarter.
We can pretend this was a turning point in the game and that it fired Granger up to lead his team over our beloved Wolves. We can pretend he wasn’t already in the process of torching Beasley, Wes, Martell and anybody else that was unfortunate enough to run into the 2007 version of the Pacers’ leading scorer. We can pretend Granger didn’t wait for Beasley and Webster to step between him and Love before he showed he wanted a piece of Love.
Everybody is a tough guy when there is no chance of actually fighting.
Kevin Love sarcastically mentioned the Pacers and their tough pills after the game, mocking how tough this team actually is. That probably has more to do with frustration from the whole night than it does with the one incident that allegedly sparked the finishing touches of the Pacers win. But watching the way the Pacers played defense and stuck to what works for them offensively, I realized the Pacers are just a physical team that gets in the way of what you want to do.
I don’t know if you want to call them tough, bothersome, or any other similar adjective, but this Pacers team knows how to muck up the game and turn it into a slop fest. And they know how to win a slop fest.
I wrote about the length of the Pacers yesterday. Seeing how it affects their opponents on the court is impressive. Sometimes, the best thing you can do defensively is just being in the way. I know it sounds basic and not all that scientific in terms of basketball schemes and theory, but simply getting in the way of your opponents can be a great way to take them out of their offensive flow.
The Wolves had no offensive flow last night. Minnesota thrives on those runs, especially in the later parts of the game most nights, to secure victories. You can feel it happening when it occurs because Rubio will fire off three or four assists in about two minutes, as the Wolves get a step quicker to the boards and fill the lanes a lot harder. They get into a rhythm offensively that is really hard to stop once it begins. But if you can stop it from ever beginning, you get home losses like the one to Cleveland a few weeks ago and the one to Indiana last night.
The Wolves weren’t allowed to get into rhythm during this game because there was no room to do so. They couldn’t create space to run their offense. The only player who had the space to do anything during the game early on was Darko, and we all know how that usually goes. Rubio couldn’t shake free of Darren Collison and Paul George and if he did on a screen, there was a lot of wingspan taking away his driving lanes.
Kevin Love got bumped wherever he went. If he was moving through the lane without the ball, he was getting bumped out of his path. If he got the ball in the post, he was pushed out an extra foot or two as he caught the ball. Luke Ridnour couldn’t get the ball to initiate his part of the offense unless it was 30 feet away from the hoop. Collison was all over him in a way completely within the rulebook.
Indiana was just in the way all night. If you got free for anything, they were making sure a whistle was blowing and you were going to the free throw line. Sure, it’s giving up free point opportunities, but it is also slowing the game down and taking away from your preferred rhythm of scoring.
Offensively, Indiana was impressive at how they created space for their shots inside. One of the best defensive methods for defending the post that you see on a game-by-game basis is invading the space of the post player when he’s getting into his shot. Make the scorer feel uncomfortable as he’s putting his shot up and maybe you can make him miss. The Pacers know this because it’s what they do really well. With Hibbert’s length and the matchup advantages they had at the wing, they were able to reach over the defense inside and put up virtually uncontested shots.
Again, everything about the Pacers is pretty simple. Outreach your opponent on your shots and get in the way on defense. Make the game ugly and win ugly. It’s not to say they don’t have schemes or a real system on both ends of the floor because they do. It’s just that they know how to deal with the game when it breaks down to its most basic form.
The Wolves have two guys who excel at this type of game – Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. They were able to play ugly, be physical and find ways to give the Wolves a boost. The rest of the team seemed ill prepared to deal with this game. It doesn’t make them soft and it doesn’t make them incapable of playing a physical game. We’ve seen them do it before. The difference last night is they didn’t find a way to play the physical game until breaking away for the necessary offensive runs. The Pacers just kept hitting them and being physical, never allowing the runs to form.
I’m sure the Wolves had a plan going into last night’s game. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to involve getting punched in the mouth.