The Indiana Pacers have the best record in the NBA, and they have clearly grown into the NBA’s elite. While other teams are led by the Durants and LeBrons of the NBA, the Pacers’ superstar is their defense. Their league-best defense is the Rainbow Road of NBA defenses, and is equally frustrating and intimidating.
The Pacers are a good barometer for the inconsistent Warriors, who have all the talent to be championship contenders but little in terms of results. Indeed, the Warriors sit at the sixth seed spot in the tough Western Conference, which would be impressive had the Warriors not traded two first round picks to contend this season. But in the NBA, every game is a game of matchups, and while the Pacers are an absolute wood-chipper, the Warriors have the talent to shock even the league’s best.
The Pacers’ defense is not based on team-wide athleticism and aggression like the Heat’s or a remarkably choreographed dance of footwork and positioning like the Bulls. Instead of building an elite defense from their team, they build a team from a group of elite defenders. Their massive perimeter players have the strength and athleticism and tenacity to stay with anyone in the league, and the interior is manned by a one-man show of verticality called Roy Hibbert. But even the Pacers have holes, and they have struggled to include David West into their league-best defense especially as the league turns to small-ball. The Warriors have options at power forward, either pulling West to the perimeter with Harrison Barnes or using David Lee as the focal point to their attack.
The Pacers also play conservatively on the pick-and-roll, dropping their bigs instead of hedging the ball-handler. This is the cardinal sin when playing against the Warriors, allowing Stephen Curry to shoot. However, the Pacers simply cannot afford to let Hibbert and the crew to stretch out into the perimeter to challenge the shooters because they don’t have the foot speed to recover. Even Curry is better at making lay-ups than shooting threes. Instead they’ll ask their perimeter defenders to fight over the screens fast enough to challenge the shot and that gives the Warriors space to attack. Simply set good screens, and the Warriors can win on offense.
On offense, the Pacers aren’t the juggernaut they are on defense. They have options in the post, good shooters, and team-wide passing, but don’t have a singular offensive superstar or a particularly electric scheme. Their pick-and-roll game is at best ineffective and at worst, non-existent. Their only true offensive weapon is the offensive rebound as the chaos and disorder caused by a surprising possession gives the Pacers leverage to score. The Warriors, however, are a great defensive rebounding team, with the fourth best defensive rebounding rate in the NBA (75.8%). Containing the Pacers won’t be easy, but it’ll begin with winning on the boards.
The Warriors are one of the most talented teams in the league, and like every game, it simply comes down to execution. Can they make shots, box-out, and set rock-solid screens? If they can, even the Pacers need to watch out.