Sprung: Pacers strive on strong defense and intensity

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David WestThe first thing you notice watching the undefeated Indiana Pacers is their intensity.

More than the other seven teams this writer has seen in person this season, Indiana plays hard and aggressive basketball for 48 minutes. The Pacers did that again Saturday night – its fourth game in five nights- and came away with a hard-fought 96-91 win over the Nets at Barclays Center to go to 7-0 on the season.

“We are just trying to play our style of basketball,” Pacers forward David West said.

That style includes going hard on every possession and playing the league’s best defense. Indiana has allowed just 85.3 points per game this season, the best mark in the NBA by more than seven points.

The following chart shows the many ways that the Pacers have the NBA’s best defense:

Pacers Defense

Number

League Rank

Points

85.3

1

Field Goal %

38.9

1

Field Goals Allowed

32.1

1

Opponent FT

18.6

4

3-Point FG %

33.6

9

Points Per Shot

1.03

1

West revealed to Sheridan Hoops one of the secrets to the team’s defensive success.

“We have a group of guys who study hard in terms of our opponent in trying to learn plays and be as tough as we can on the defensive end of every single possession,” he said.

Brooklyn came with a unique set of challenges in multiple talented offensive players. Once Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Brook Lopez and the rest of the Nets start to form good chemistry, very few teams will be able to contain a roster so talented.

Indiana will be one of those teams.

Williams had a strong performance for Brooklyn with 17 points and 10 assists. But the old Boston duo of Pierce and Garnett combined for just 21 points on 8-for-19 shooting and a minus-29 in a combined 60 minutes.

Vogel playoffs knicks_opt“Those guys are elite scorers. They’re still capable of going for big numbers if you don’t honor them,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Just try to keep them in front of us and contest all their jump shots.”

Contesting jump shots seems so simple and elementary. But many players often get lax over the course of a season, and shooters begin to get more open looks. More than almost any other team, Indiana prides itself on not allowing giving those looks.

“Pierce and Joe Johnson are tough shot makers, so we stayed focused in terms of having a hand up,” West said. “They make a tough shot, pat them on the butt and get ready for the next possession.”

In preparing for the Nets game and watching some tape, West “noticed that they were getting their looks based off of bringing two guys to the ball. So we tried to stay with our individual matchups as much as possible and just contest their shots.”

For those who haven’t yet seen Indiana this season, small forward extraordinaire Paul George has a whole lot to do with the team’s ascent to the elite. He scored 24 points Saturday, emerging as an early MVP candidate, and also has the rare ability to lock down the opponent’s best perimeter threat.

PaulGeorgeSH1“Whoever the best wing scorer out there on the court is, he’s got that guy for the entire length he’s on the court,” Vogel said. “To be able to do that, and the toll that takes on your legs and body and still come down and carry the offensive load, it’s very impressive what he’s doing.”

Against Pierce, George made sure to ”pressure up and try to make any shot he took a tough one.”

“We’re following Paul George’s lead,” West said.

As usual, 7-2 center Roy Hibbert’s defensive ability was a huge difference maker Saturday against Lopez, who looks much improved this season and is off to a really good start on the offensive end.

Hibbert was well aware that the Nets have been playing through Lopez.

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