1. Indiana’s defense, designed to force mid-range shots, did so by minimizing scrambling rotations.
Perhaps the main ingredient to Indiana’s defensive success is how they discourage teams from taking high-efficiency shots. They certainly did that tonight: the Jazz made 0 corner threes in the game, and shot just 11 overall. Furthermore, Utah shot 28 shots within the restricted area, making 13 of those around the basket shots. The midrange shots that Utah had in the first half generally went in, and in the second half, they generally didn’t. The second half was especially effective, as the Jazz scored just 19 in both the 3rd and 4th quarters.
How do the Pacers do this? Vogel says the secret is “eliminating rotations”. The goal is to “try to handle all of the action you see in the half court without getting into a chain reaction of rotations”. Jazz fans are certainly familiar with this chain reaction, as the team ends up scrambling in many defensive possessions, thus giving up an easy shot at the rim or the 3 point line.
So what’s the process to becoming an elite defensive team? According to Vogel, “Step 1 is to get good defensive players. Our starting five are all exceptional at guarding their own position. From that point forward, it’s urgency and having guys who care.” Dennis Lindsey is trying to build that same defensive core in Utah, but in both personnel and scheming, there’s much work to be done.
2. The young Core Five played together on the floor for the first time.
With Trey Burke’s return, it had been a possibility for over two weeks, but until tonight, Coach Corbin had chosen to generally play either Favors or Kanter at center against teams with smaller lineups. Against the more sizable Pacers, and with power forwards Marvin Williams and Jeremy Evans out, Corbin played the promising young lineup of Burke/Burks/Hayward/Favors/Kanter in their first NBA minutes together as a group. The lineup played 7 minutes together, including roughly 4:30 to end the game, and generally played well, beating the Pacers by 7 points overall when they were in the game. 7 minutes is actually quite a bit for a non-starting lineup to play together, and in this season of discovery, Ty Corbin might be well served to see how the young group plays together by getting them in the starting lineup. Doing so would generally mean at least 12 minutes together per game as a group to gel, allowing the front office to learn the group’s strengths and weaknesses when playing together.
3. Utah’s elevation tired the Pacers out.
This is always a factor when teams come to Salt Lake City, but rarely do multiple players on a team comment about it as a limitation after the same game. Pacers star Paul George, who was limited to just 19 points after a 43 point explosion on Monday, commented, “It was so hard to find my wind. My chest was burning. I tried to play through it and just find a way to get a win tonight.” Things were even worse for Roy Hibbert, who suffers from asthma. Hibbert said, “I’m going to be honest, the altitude because of my asthma kind of kicked me in the rear to begin with. It’s not an excuse, but you have to get in here a couple of days before hand and practice hard to get adjusted to it. I talked to some people and went through some methods to get through it.”
Even with a day off between games, the Jazz’s location allowed them to get an advantage on an opposing team. I wrote about this on SLCDunk last year: the top two teams, statistically, in terms of home-court advantage in the NBA are Denver and Utah. I’ll leave it to you to find the common denominator between the two franchises.