The Indiana Pacers aren’t just happy to be in the playoffs. Victor Oladipo and company have been saying for awhile that they want to make a run in the postseason and shock the world.
The Pacers thoroughly destroyed the Cavaliers in Game 1 while introducing themselves to the national audience, but everyone knows a LeBron James-led team isn’t going down easy, especially in the first round.
Cavs coach Ty Lue will likely be ready with adjustments and how Pacers coach Nate McMillan and his staff are able to respond to those will determine how successful they can be through the rest of the series.
Here are a few likely adjustments from the Cavaliers and what the options are from there for the Pacers:
The Cavaliers may not start Jeff Green. Instead, they could look at the following:
- JR Smith or another wing
- Larry Nance Jr. or Tristan Thompson
Cleveland essentially has three options with their starting lineup: continue to start Green (who scored 0 points on his 7 shot attempts and was a team-low -15) and hope that his shot turns around so the Pacers are punished for guarding him with Myles Turner, go with a bigger lineup by playing Tristan Thompson, who has fallen completely out of the rotation, or Larry Nance Jr., who made 5 of his 7 attempts in Game 1, or go even smaller, start JR Smith or another wing and play LeBron as the power forward.
Lue said after the first game that they “couldn’t get to” playing their best five, which is a strange thing for the head coach to say but one way to make sure that happens is to start your best five. So, let’s assume he does make a change.
The scariest of those options for the Pacers is probably a LeBron-at-the-4 lineup. That probably means that if it doesn’t happen in Game 2, it’ll probably happen at some point in this series.
That’s the most potent Cavs lineup on offense most likely (a similar style lineup of George Hill-Rodney Hood-Jordan Clarkson-LeBron James-Larry Nance Jr played 26 minutes together after the All-Star break and blitzed teams with a 38.2 net rating). It would force the Pacers to make some tough lineup decisions. The Pacers could defend Kevin Love with Turner, which they avoided for the most part in Game 1 and allow Thad Young to guard James. This is probably the Pacers best defensive option against James as Young is about the same size and has more strength than Lance Stephenson and more foot speed than Bojan Bogdanovic.
While the 4/5 pick and rolls between LeBron and Love would give the Pacers problems with Thad and Turner defending, the Pacers may be able to hold their own with this group. If they have to resort to switching Turner into James or if Turner can’t get out to Love in time on the arc, the Pacers could match with their own small lineup.
While the Pacers would still start Turner to see how things go, they could quickly pull the plug and use their little used Thad-at-the-5 lineup with Bogdanovic moving to the 4 or Trevor Booker coming in to play the 4. It may not last forever but Bogey has played James as well as could possibly be hoped. The Pacers defended the Cavs better than just about anyone this season in Game 1.
Per this article from Bleacher Report, no one guarded James more in Game 1 than Bogdanovic, and the Cavaliers mustered under 0.80 points per possession in those instances. The Cavaliers also shot a shockingly low percentage on open 3-point attempts with no defender within 4 feet of the shooter at just 25% (7 for 28). These are things that the law of averages tell us simply won’t hold up for the Pacers, no matter how superb it truly was in the opening game. The Cavs will hit more shots.
Booker and Young are probably the best pair of defenders the Pacers can hope for on these LeBron/Love pick and rolls and at minimum something that McMillan can try if the first two options are unsuccessful.
If Larry Nance Jr. starts, the Cavaliers did have some extreme success in a very small sample size with Nance, Love, LeBron, Smith, and Clarkson. In just three minutes against mostly the Pacers bench, that Cavaliers group put up an absurd 182.9 points per 100 possessions and a net rating of 114.9. If they look to start Nance, the 3-man grouping of Love/LeBron/Nance put together a net rating of 4.2 in 16 minutes of action, which is the second-best of any 3-man lineup that played at least 15 minutes in Game 1.
The Pacers would likely stick with Myles Turner on Nance Jr. and Young on Love in this scenario. Turner lost Nance a few times in the pick and roll while trying to stay onto James as long as possible but also made a huge block on Nance right as he came back in during the fourth quarter.
Nance isn’t an outside shooter, so Turner wouldn’t have to worry about defending him on the perimeter, but the Pacers have struggled at various times throughout the year defending the lob on the pick and roll, which the high-flying Nance is well adept at finishing.
The other option for going with a bigger lineup for the Cavs is a player that once was a huge part of their success but has completely fallen out of their rotation this year in Tristan Thompson. Lue was telling reporters that he was thinking about shortening his rotation so it may be unlikely that Thompson’s name would be called, but his strength of rebounding is at times a problem for the Pacers, especially when Turner is forced to help and protect the rim often, so it could be something that Lue looks to eventually in the series. Thompson is the player that Turner dunked all over in last year’s playoffs.
Though maybe the Cavs won’t remove Green from the starters:
The Cavaliers will look to hedge and trap Oladipo constantly
The only time the Cavaliers had any form of success while defending the Pacers superstar was when the showed hard and forced the ball out of his hands. He eventually countered these plays by splitting the defense, but Cleveland didn’t stay committed to the approach they started with for the majority of the game, allowing Oladipo to carve up switches on his pull-up 3-pointers and be a general terror to their defense.
Lue wants to make someone else on the Pacers beat them in Game 2 other than Oladipo. When the Cavs trapped on the pick and roll in Game 1, James was cheating on the slip pass to Turner stealing it away. Turner will have to be better at recognizing how quick he can slip those screens as they look to trap him quickly and Oladipo will need to be watching for a cheating James so he can move the pass to the next man.
Oladipo’s decision making on these plays is paramount. Too often, he seems to be slow to make any kind of decision and eventually just loses the ball. He’s taken to try and back up at tijmes but when the defense stays committed to keeping those two defenders on him this only seems to make matters worse and a turnover more likely. Making a pass or splitting the defense should be decided quickly in these situations. Caitlin Cooper of Indy Cornrows breaks down the Pacers need for better solutions when teams trap Oladipo here:
The Pacers used to torch the LeBron Heat on these type of plays by quickly getting the ball to David West in the middle of the court with a 4-on-3. They got so good at beating that trapping Heat defense that they had to change their strategy against Indiana. The Pacers have a long way to go in this area currently. Whether Turner or Sabonis is in the game, if they slip the screen they should be able to create those same type of plays if Oladipo can quickly get them the ball. Or if that play is being overplayed by the Cavs defense, it should leave someone open on the perimeter at the 3-point line.
These are just a few possible adjustments that Lue and his coaching staff are likely to make. With every playoff game, more possibilities come into play based on what worked and what didn’t. How well the Pacers respond to the adjustments that are successful for the Cavs during this next game will determine if they start this series off with a pair of wins and really be on their way to shocking the world or if they’ll be searching for answers as they head back to Indiana.