With 3:51 remaining in the game, the Indiana Pacers were down by eight points as Nate McMillan called timeout and went to a lineup that had played only a single minute together all season: Victor Oladipo, Lance Stephenson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner.
“Nate called a timeout,” said Oladipo, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the second time this season, “and all I said was, ‘There’s a lot of time left. We just gotta take it one possession at a time,’ and we did a great job.”
Almost no previous time together. No point guard. No problem. Oladipo took care of the offense to the tune of 47 points and the defense took care of the rest down the stretch.
After Denver’s Gary Harris hit a 3-pointer with 2:54 remaining in the game to put the Nuggets back up by eight, the Nuggets wouldn’t score again in regulation. They were nearly held scoreless for the entirety of overtime as well until Kenneth Faried hit a layup with 13 seconds left and the game out of reach.
In total, this Pacers lineup held the Nuggets without a single point for nearly eight consecutive minutes.
No point guard for the Pacers. No points at all for the Nuggets.
“We started to get back to Pacers basketball,” said Young, “which is pressuring up and getting into guys … On the defensive end, we were aggressive and forcing a lot of pressure.”
The advanced numbers for this group over those nine minutes (very small sample size alert) from last night are absurd: 151.3 offensive rating and 35.7 defensive rating for a net rating of 115.6.
Now that’s a death lineup.
“We held them to two points in overtime,” Oladipo said. “That’s why we won the game.”
It’s the second consecutive game Stephenson has been a huge plus defensively down the stretch. He was also among the Pacers that held the Cavaliers to just six points in the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter.
The question now becomes was this was one-off moment that was spurred by an energetic atmosphere or can this be something the Pacers look to in the future?
Rewatching the game’s final minutes is encouraging for the Pacers as the Nuggets were constantly in late shot-clock scenarios as they struggled to get quick looks. In regulation, the Nuggets did the following against the Pacers no-point lineup: one made shot, two turnovers, four missed field goals.
The first turnover was a moving screen. Here’s every Pacers defensive possession in fourth quarter after that play. Notice how late the Nuggets are taking their attempts after the Harris 3-pointer.
All of the Nuggets shot attempts were either challenged 3-point or midrange attempts or a shot you can live with at any time (Faried taking a midrange attempt). The Nuggets managed to get one offensive rebound, but the second possesion ended in a turnover as they were trying to find something late in the shot clock again.
Part of this may have been the Nuggets playing conservatively at first with a decent lead, but it continued as Oladipo got the Pacers closer and well into overtime as well.
Here’s the overtime defensive possessions:
In overtime, the Pacers forced turnovers repeatedly and continued to “pressure up” ball-handlers. Stephenson frustrated Harris so much that he got an offensive foul and a technical foul in the closing minutes.
While it’s possible this was a mirage inspired by a crazy crowd and an unbelievable night by Oladipo (could also be said about the whole season), the Pacers would be wise to try and use this lineup again if Darren Collison continues to be out.
It’s a lineup that the Pacers seemed prepared to possibly go to as Stephenson was being considered at the point guard position over the summer before the Collison and Cory Joseph additions.
Since Oladipo can guard opposing points and Stephenson can run an offense, it’s a natural fit between the two of them in the backcourt.
We didn’t get to see much of an offense as the Pacers were content to let Oladipo get whatever switch he desired and attack with how good he had it going.
The Pacers had no assists with this lineup over the final nine minutes despite that ridiculously high offensive rating as Oladipo and company were getting easy baskets at the rim.
The Pacers struggled to defend the Nuggets for much of the game’s first 44 minutes as the state of Indiana products Trey Lyles (career-high 25 points, making five of his seven 3-point attempts) and Gary Harris (21 points) were shooting lights out. McMillan was having flashbacks to last season’s London game.
“They put a lot of pressure on our defense because they have four guys out there that can dribble, score and attack the basket. They do a good job of moving the ball. … We made some adjustments and were able to get some stops and the biggest stops came in overtime, where we almost shut them out.”
Denver’s potent offense became no problem for the Pacers and their have-no-point, give-up-no-points unit.