Flipping a coin is as close to a 50/50 chance as there is. Whether you catch the coin in one palm and flip it over onto the back of your hand, or try to place the coin heads up on your thumb before you flip the results remain uncontrollable, unpredictable yet there is a strange phenomenon when the coin can keep coming up tails. You could flip a coin 10 times and have it turn up tail each time. In a 50/50 world that can happen but it is unlikely. Such is the case in Indianapolis. The Pacers have managed to go 1 and 10 in games decided by a single possession. These games should be able to go either. A stop and a basket on the other end could easily be a 4 to 6 point swing. Indiana seems to more than any other franchise be on the losing end of these scenarios this season. On the season Indiana is massively under performing their expected win total and point differential. By most data points, Pythagorean win there, expected win loss, or point differential the Pacers should be close to if not above .500.
Only two other teams have played 10 games decided by 3 or fewer points and each have a significantly better record in those games. SO that leaves us to ask “where are the Pacers falling short?” For our dive into the Pacers shortcomings, we looked into the fourth quarter and any overtimes for these games. Is it their lack of stars? Is it poor coaching? Did they truly just get unlucky with the officials? Unlike flipping a coin there are a number of factors which could go into this. We intend to look into each of these games to determine if the Pacers are bad or simply unlucky. We will award Positive Pacer Points if Indiana over performed their outcome and Negative Pacer Points if their own failure cost them in the clutch.
The first may be the most obvious: teams can have various leads. Jumping in at the fourth quarter can be a bit jarring but also offers some out of context insight. In three of these games The Pacers entered the final 6 or 7 minutes of action down three possessions (7 points) or more. In their 11/19 loss to the Hornets, Charlotte claimed a 19-point lead with 4 ½ minutes left. A frantic full court press from the reserves pulled this one close enough for Brissett to have a chance to tie it at the buzzer. Similarly, although the Pacers led early in their 10/31 meeting with the Hornets by the 7-minute mark they were down 10 points. Indiana lived by the three that evening closing strong. Against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Pacers found themselves down 9 points with just over 5 minutes remaining. They were never able to overcome this deficit. Still, we are giving Indiana points for making what could have been double digit losses close games.
Scoreboard: Positive Pacer Points: 3, Negative Pacer Points: 0
The next thing we looked into was the officiating. Here the NBA’s final two-minute report provides a clear and well-defined score board. Indiana was the favorable recipient of 9 missed calls in these 11 games, while their opponents got the benefit of the doubt 10 times. Making this a near even split by the basics of the numbers. However, looking into these key moments there were a number of tipping points which went against Indiana. On 12/31, Chicago was the beneficiary of 2 incorrect calls in the final 40 seconds. The first would have given the ball back to Indiana prior to DeRozan pulling the game within 1 point and the second would have sent Craig to the line with Indiana up 1 preventing the DeRozan steal and game winning fast break. Likewise Indiana’s matchup with Atlanta came down to the final possession where Chris Duarte was held on what would have been the go ahead layup. These and other calls ultimately are going to result in 3 Positive Pacer Points as there were three games whose endings were influenced by incorrect calls.
Scoreboard: Positive Pacer Points: 6, Negative Pacer Points: 0
When it comes to coaching one has to surmise what a team is looking to accomplish. Judging by makes or misses can be miss leading. With Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis, one has to believe the goal is a pick and roll with Sabonis touching the ball. Per Synergy Brogdon averages 1.17 points per possession as the pick and roll ball handler while Sabonis averages 1.49 points per possession as the roll man when he goes towards the basket. These plays should be Indiana’s bread and butter. As good of a coach as Rick Carlisle has a reputation for being, his early season play calling was very suspect. He ran a number of late game pick and pops for Sabonis against Charlotte as if Sabonis were Porzingis. In their next match up against the Wizard, Indiana rarely saw the paint on offense while giving it up easily on defense. Making matters worse Carlisle pulled a 2015 Spurs benching Sabonis for a key defensive possession. Expectantly Indiana gives up the defense board and loses. After a few games Carlisle seemed to figure out his personality and these glaring coaching errors started to fade.
In more recent games such as their 1/10 battle with Boston the Pacers are able to feed Sabonis in the post, then run cutters around him. Indiana was able to get a few great transition looks against the Timberwolves, Hawks and Bulls. As long as the Pacers were able to get into the lane they were able to find success. During their largest comeback, the 19-point deficit against Charlotte T.J. McConnel’s ability to get into the paint and kick to shooters was a key contributor. Ultimately out of the 11 games we scored coaching 4-3 in Pacers’ favor with 3 games being a mixed bag.
Scoreboard: Positive Pacer Points: 10, Negative Pacer Points: 3
On the bad luck side of things Indiana did catch a few bad breaks. On 12/13 the clock keepers seemed to be against Indiana. A wild drive by Caris LeVert sent the ball careening out of bounce with roughly 4.7 seconds. The clock ran down to 2.2. The Warriors gained possession and advanced the ball with a time out. Indiana instantly stole the in-bounce pass but was unable to fire off a shot. With an additional 2.5 seconds the Pacers would have been able to cross half court and attempt a decent look. Another What if for Indiana comes off a coach’s challenge. On 11/10 with 42 seconds left Sabonis was to be sent to the line off a Nuggets foul. However, a coach’s challenge changed the course of play resulting in a jump ball which was correct by the letter of the law. Only the ball on the original play went directly out of bounce off Denver. It should have been Pacer’s ball instead Denver won the jump and extended their lead to 4 with just 27 seconds left.
Scoreboard: Positive Pacer Points: 12, Negative Pacer Points: 3
With so many close games it is natural, almost too easy to think “if only Indiana had a true superstar they would have won”. After all, Boston had a near game-sealing shot from Jayson Tatum, and DeMar DeRozan’s one-legged runner ended Indiana’s night. What of when the Pacers were given the opportunity to win? Sabonis missed an off footed mid post fade away against the Hornets on 10/22. He missed again on a deep 3-pointer against the Raptors. In one late game scenario Caris LeVert had a strong drive which until he lost control of the dribble sending the ball out of bounce. Ignoring the Duarte should have been fouled, the Warriors clock shenanigans, the Pacers had two other attempts to win or neither were successful.
Scoreboard: Positive Pacer Points: 12, Negative Pacer Points: 8
It was hard to imagine watching 10 Pacer’s losses in 11 games and coming out with a favorable opinion of the franchise but that is where the Pacer Point Tracker landed. Playing from behind frequently is not an easy task. Indiana overall outscored their opponents across these 11 games in the final 6 minutes. The one game they held a more than one possession lead in the final 6 minutes of regulation resulted in their only victory.
The lack of familiarity of their coach cost Indiana early but there are clearly fit issues. It is clear Carlisle is still adjusting to his new personnel. In an ideal world the Pacers would try to draw up a final play for Sabonis to pick and roll to the rim. On the season Sabonis averages 1.49 points per possession on pick and rolls and just 0.98 on pick and pops as Carlisle frequently used him. Sabonis is a very different big than Kristaps Porzingis was for Carlisle and needs to be used differently.
If the late game scenario does not have enough time to run a pick and roll then the Pacers need to work the ball to Caris LeVert in isolation. Sure, the one example we got of him in isolation was an absolute self-enforced error but LeVert is Indiana’s best isolation scorer by a wide margin. Averaging 0.93 points per possession is more impressive than it sounds in isolation. It rates LeVert as a “good” isolation scorer per Synergy sports. By comparison Malcolm Brogdon who is second in isolation possessions or Indiana averages 0.71 points per possession. Making these few tweaks would really bolster Indiana’s chances of winning late.
However even the best coaching changes can only take the Pacers so far. Indiana’s roster construction needs some help. The Pacers best offensive 5-man unit and their best defensive 5-man unit has very little overlap. Turner, who should be ideal for late game scenarios as a rim protector and a spacer struggles to corral defensive rebounds which in this 11 game sample size hurt the Pacers in key moments. Sabonis has to remain on the court for offensive purposes and to finish the defensive possession but he gets targeted on pick and rolls giving up 1.26 points per possession. If the Pacers want to play Torrey Craig and Oshae Brissett they are running out two players who need to function as spot up shooters on offense. Unfortunately, neither player averages 1.0 points per possession as a spot up man. Indiana’s roster is far from perfect but instead of blowing it up entirely it would be worth trying to add a ‘3 and D’ wing first.