Down 0-2 in a series that many gave them no chance to win before it even began, the Indiana Pacers are on life support.
The offense has died for entire quarters in each of the first two games. The Pacers pair of young big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis have been non-existent on offense. Late-game execution has been a nightmare. And yet despite these and other issues, Indiana comes home feeling like they’ve beat themselves against the Boston Celtics, who have been considered a contender in the East all season.
“We can’t have these mental lapses,” said Sabonis after the second game. “It’s all execution. For us, it feels like we lost both games.”
Pacers coach Nate McMillan called the last minute “the worst basketball I’ve seen in a long, long time.”
You could argue the entire third quarter where they scored just eight points in game one just three days earlier for the Pacers was worse, but the timing certainly amplified the mistakes at the end of game two.
On the defensive end alone, the Pacers allowed a wide open corner 3-pointer from Jayson Tatum that put the Celtics ahead for good. They lost Gordon Hayward on a cut to the basket that put them up by 3. They didn’t manage to foul the Celtics on the next possession before Tatum dunked, but they did manage to make that worse by fouling him on the attempt which put them down six.
But the offensive side was just as bad, the biggest problem being that the Pacers are trying to play Bojan Bogdanovic down the stretch in the same way that they would play Victor Oladipo. Running a high screen and roll with Oladipo every time down is one thingbut putting Bogdanovic in a situation that he’s not particularly adept in multiple times in the game’s final moments seems like a poor choice.
These possessions ended with isolations after the Celtics switched Al Horford onto Bogdanovic. Bogey finished the season in the 32nd percentile for isolations, averaging just 0.76 points per possession. With the Pacers still up 2, he tried to drive by Horford, who has repeatedly made the Pacers look foolish for trying to beat him after a switch in the series, but was blocked at the rim and ended up on the ground and out of the play as the Celtics got the go-ahead 3-pointer in transition.
While Bogdanovic is the Pacers best offensive player, there should be other ways to get him the ball late as Cooper points out in the link above. The rest of the Pacers possessions in this game ended in turnovers or poor attempts including an inbounds play where the pass sailed out of bounds as Bogdanovic stopped in his path looking confused and Wesley Matthews jumping in frustration. Ben Pfeifer did a great job of breaking down the entire late collapse for 8 points, 9 seconds here.
The Pacers problems started as soon as their terrific third quarter ended. The bench lineup with Bogdanovic at the power forward spot was torched with a 10-3 start, but the starters didn’t all get put back into the game until 7:30 remained. After Turner was in full DPOY-candidate mode in the third, he was out as the Celtics quickly cut the lead to four.
Kyrie Irving, who scored 37 points in Game 2, said his eyes light up when Turner’s not on the floor.
“As they should,” Irving said. “It’s only right because of how much respect I have for Myles as a shot blocker and what he’s been able to do in the regular season and now the playoffs. He was making me miss at the rim. That’s what you want to do as a shot blocker if you can’t get a hand on it. He was coming over every single time and there were a few plays where I’m getting to the rim and wondering when Myles is coming over.”
Irving struggled to consistently make shots in Game 1 making just six of his 17 attempts, which makes the Pacers inept effort on offense in that game even more frustrating. Those are the types of games that Indiana has to find a way to win to have a chance in the series without their own star.
While Turner’s impact has been felt on the defensive end, he’s been invisible on the offensive end as he’s taken only six and seven shots in the first two games. While most of this has simply been the team not finding him or making an effort to get him more involved, he passed up a good look in the possession following Tatum’s 3-pointer that could have given the team the lead. Maybe he doesn’t pass that up if he has more of a rhythm, but it was one that he simply had to take in that moment as the Pacers ended up with an off-balance 3-pointer from Matthews that clanged off the backboard.
Domas Sabonis has been unable to make an impact in this series as well as he is just 3 for 10 from the field in the first two games as the Celtics have been focused on taking his roll looks away and immediately doubling him in the post or forcing him to use his right hand. He scored just one point in Game 2 but managed to add five assists.
After Thursday’s practice, Turner was asked if he thought there would be an adjustment to get the Pacers pair of bigs more involved offensively.
“I hope so,” he said. “It’s not my job. My job is to go out there and play. If I’m put in position to get more shots, I’m going to take them.”
Thad Young agreed that the team needs to do a better job of getting them both more chances.
“We want to get everybody involved in the offense,” Young said on Thursday. “That’s how we’ve won games … it makes us a better team 10 times over.”
The long stretches were the Pacers can’t seem to get anything to fall in the basket has been compounded by poor rolls off the rim. Both Thad Young and Darren Collison had two of the more unusual in-and-outs in the fourth quarter and those kind of misses when combined with an offense that’s already struggling seems to create avalanche that crushes the team’s confidence. The same can be said for the wide open misses that started the third quarter of Game 1.
The Pacers do have a morale boost coming as Victor Oladipo should return to Indianapolis for the first time since the injury. Visiting with Oladipo after his surgery in Miami sent the Pacers on a winning streak, so perhaps his presence combined with home court can help Indiana make this series competitive.