Roy Hibbert, Pacers Must Remain Dedicated to Controlling Paint After Game 2 Loss

Raymond Felton, Roy HibbertThe Pacers just kept firing away from beyond the arc, making Game 2 feel a little like seeing your dad wearing skinny jeans or watching your mom try to dance to J-Kwon. Aside from the personal embarrassment, the act was so out of character, it just felt wrong.

No matter how many 3-pointers the Pacers have put up in the first two games of their second-round playoff series against the Knicks, this is not who they are. Inexplicably, the Pacers have gotten into a shooting match with the Knicks. While Game 1 at least featured enough balance for the Pacers to come out with a win, their 105-70 loss in Game 2 illustrated how dangerous it can be for a team to play outside its identity in the playoffs.

If the Pacers plan on maintaining home-court advantage, which they seized by virtue of their victory in the series opener, they need to maintain their dedication to establishing Roy Hibbert and David West in the post.

“We knew we weren’t going to sweep or anything like that,” Hibbert told reporters after calling his team “timid” and “soft” after Game 2. “We’re just going to have to grind it out, make sure we take care of home and then come back here. It’s going to be a fun series. It’s obviously going to be physical.”

The Pacers are not very complicated, and that is part of their charm. They play slow, defend and treat the 3-point line with the contempt of a 1970s traditionalist shaking his fist at this malarkey brought over from the ABA. They played the seventh-slowest pace in the league and averaged only 19.7 threes attempted per game in the regular season. Only the cadaver-stiff Celtics and football-on-hardwood Bulls averaged fewer 3-pointers among Eastern Conference playoff teams.

Meanwhile the Knicks, who do not play with the verve of the 1980s Nuggets, either, prefer shootouts to slugfests. The Knicks attempted a league-high 28.9 threes per game in the regular season, more than nine more than the Pacers. New York was last in points in the paint at just 33.6 points per game, nearly seven points fewer than the Pacers. The Pacers grind. The Knicks preen.

In other words, the Pacers best chance of winning the series is forcing the Knicks to play their style. Instead, through two games the opposite has happened.

The Pacers have taken 48 threes, one fewer than the Knicks, and have actually been eclipsed by the New York team in points in the paint so far. They held a 76-56 advantage in points in the paint through the first six quarters of the series, but in the second half of Game 2, they forgot who they were. Paul George, Lance Stephenson and George Hill each took at least three 3-pointers in the half, while West and Hibbert earned just seven shots total after halftime.

The number of raw shots is not the best way to judge the Pacers’ play, obviously. They actually took more threes in Game 1, but that was a product of an inside-outside attack that helped D.J. Augustin get free and go off. After the Game 2 loss, the Pacers tried to frame this as a case of shots simply not falling. False. George, Stephenson and Hill were every bit as aggressive from downtown as they were in Game 1, but there was never any attempt in the second half of Game 2 to get the ball inside to Hibbert or West. Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin‘s defense on Indiana’s big men should not be discounted, but the Pacers made it easy on them.

Chandler and Martin had zero blocked shots in the second half of Game 2, after combining for four blocks in the first game. This was significant because those Game 1 blocks were a byproduct of the ball constantly being around the rim for the Pacers on offense. Yet with the ball seldom around the basket in the second half on Tuesday, the Knicks rarely had opportunities for blocks. Jump shots are tough to block — sometimes, a simple contest and close-out is better, anyway.

The Knicks are a long way from controlling this series. The road team’s goal typically is to try to steal one of the first two games, and the Pacers accomplished that. If the Pacers stick with the gameplan that got them to this point, they are still the favorite in this series. But if they get caught up in trying to outshoot the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony soon will be celebrating his second career trip to the conference finals.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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