On January 23nd the Pacers slammed into a serious roadblock to their playoff run aspirations by way of a gruesome, season-ending injury to all-star Victor Oladipo. It was heart-wrenching and it was unfair. Oladipo was building on a breakout 2017/18 season, the heart and soul of a terrifying 32-15 Pacer team sitting in 3rd place in the East. With his injury, it seemed the wicked grip of mediocrity had come once again to ensnare the Pacers.
The Pacers began their journey after losing Oladipo by reeling off four straight bad losses. In fact, the Pacers were so rattled that they managed just one made field goal in first six minutes of their first game back against the Grizzlies. One field goal. They kept the game close, but they ultimately lost, and then lost three more games after that: two blowout defeats to the Warriors and Wizards and a 7-point defeat to the Magic in a game that was never really close.
But now the Pacers are riding a three-game win streak, the most recent a 42-point win over Lebron and the Anthony Davis trade package—AKA the Los Angeles Lakers. The Pacers have regained their balance, realigned their strategy, and mostly just realized wait, we’re still a really damn good team. Here are the keys to the Pacers’ resurgence and why the rest of the East can’t fall asleep on this dynamic team:
They figured out how to score
Enough to win games, anyway. And it’s by pushing the pace. The Pacers look their best when they’re gliding up and down the court and playing with freedom. Forcing the tempo has opened up the floor, taken pressure off their impotent half-court offense, and most importantly created quality 3-point shots.
There is work to be done yet, though, as the Pacers still attempt way too many 2-point jumpers. Legend has it, every time Darren Collison takes a deep contested 2 or Myles Turner cuts his pick ‘n’ pop short of the arc, a middle-aged man feels the urge to comment that today’s NBA will never compare to the 90s—and that’s just not good for anyone. The Pacers’ roster is loaded with guys who are capable from 3-point land, and in the current NBA offensive landscape, they need to put those players in position to shoot those shots in order to stay successful.
Bojan Bogdanovic, future 3rd team all-NBA
Okay maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the Pacers have finally figured out how to unleash his lethal scoring ability. Bogdanovic has a pure jumper with great movement off the ball, and with clever screens and actions, his teammates are finding quality shots for him, which is in turn jumpstarting their dreadful offense.
While Bogdanovic putting up gaudy numbers, the Pacers may still need more from him offensively, especially in crunch time. He doesn’t need to do everything Oladipo was doing late game, but Indiana still desperately needs someone they can at least count on to take tough shots down the stretch. Bogdanovic has shown flashes of skilled ball handling and the ability to create offense out of nothing, but will need to continue to develop that area of his game so he can be their go-to guy come playoff time.
It’s simple but is still the most important key to any continued Pacer success this season. Indiana is a defensive juggernaut, with lock-down perimeter defenders backed by top-notch rim protection. They are a long, fast team that gets in the passing lanes and uses steals and fast-break points to make up for their below-average offense.
The key to this is their effort, and they didn’t have any of it during their four-game losing streak, looking lethargic and defeated on defense. But in the last three games they ramped up the energy, forcing turnovers and not giving up anything easy for the opposition. It’s a lot to ask a team to play its guts out on the defensive end for an 82-game season plus playoffs, but the Pacers don’t really have a choice.
It seemed like everyone was ready to count the Pacers out, but if they can maintain decent offensive production while gobbling up their foes on defense, they will remain a team no one will want to face in the playoffs. And look out, the Bojan Bogdanovic tsunami is coming for us all.