The Indiana Pacers play a deliberately poised and well, paced style of basketball. There’s just no better word for it. They move the ball around the key thoughtfully, which can be enjoyable to watch, even for those who prefer fast-breaks. But because this team is longer than it is loose, and bruising more than blazing, the movement can also be messy.
For this reason, the Pacers are tough to play, even for the usually scintillating Miami Heat. Their big bodies, who like playing back to the hoop, are always upright and active. In this way, they actually resemble an eighties Pacers team, anchored by opportunistic big men and supported by strong outside shooting. Rik Smits and Reggie Miller would be proud.
The Indiana half court set requires diligence, with the frontline players jostling for position, raising a hand in the low post or foul line extended, while the outside men pass it around, looking for openings and angles. The ball is routinely lobbed in to the likes of David West, whose bulky shoulders and quick jumpers trouble smaller defenders. Otherwise Paul George and Lance Stephenson sink timely long balls. It’s a comprehensive attack.
But what I like most about the Pacers, is that they slow down high octane outfits like Miami, whose alley-ooping, highlight reel approach has infiltrated so many NBA clubs, even when there’s no surprise to it anymore. Sure, it’s lively basketball and gives ESPN and other broadcasters a spectacle, but like the “pistol” offense that’s swept through pro football, how long will it last? Not even the famed Lakers “Showtime” sparkled forever.
If there’s a style of play that might upend the Heat’s reign, it might be this more methodical, rebounding-centric, down and dirty approach the Pacers are making their own. Their few highlights—maybe a George fade away from the corner, or a West jump hook—are the sorts of plays that lift a coach from his seat more than the crowd. And that’s okay. The strategy works, even if the pinstripes on Indiana’s jerseys are the fanciest thing about them.
So, if the Pacers meet the Heat again in the playoffs, or Chicago, or New York for that matter, they might be grinding contests, but engrossing nonetheless. Indiana present a genuine threat to any of those aforementioned teams because yes, they’re swarming on defense, but also so burly on offense.
While so many other clubs are content to stall on the perimeter and allow one player to create, the Pacers players turn like the parts of a watch. They revel in their size and inside presence, banging wilfully against barreled chests like that of LeBron James. There’s no fear in this Indiana squad: They’re happy to dent egos, and spur conflict. They hustle, switch, set screens, call for lobs, make cuts for unspectacular lay-ups, and shift to an imbalanced formations. They’re not afraid to fumble the ball, scrap around for it in the paint, or throw themselves at the glass. It’s the sort of basketball that will disrupt slicker opponents, and those teams might be better to quit showboating, and start worrying.