The Indiana Pacers boast, without question, the league’s top defense. They led the league in defensive ratingl last season, kept all their major pieces, and in their first six games — all wins — they’ve allowed a ridiculous 87.5 points per 100 possessions, by far the best in the league. Their anchor, Roy Hibbert, blocks a league-leading 4.7 shots per game, and the team hasn’t allowed more than 91 points to any opponent this season.
But, like any team in the NBA, they’re not perfect. They’ve got very small, exploitable cracks in their armor, and there’s one that the Nets have the ability to exploit.
Indiana makes their mark on defense by protecting the hell out of the paint. Opponents have shot just 41.6% from within five feet against the Pacers, by far the best in the NBA and a full 14.9% below the league average. That’s, for lack of a more creative term, bonkers. Roy Hibbert hasn’t sent back nearly five shots per game on the perimeter; opponents have shot just 34.8% against him in the first six games and he’s the owner of one of the more famous playoff blocks in recent memory. Opponents as a whole have shot just 36% against the Pacers with Hibbert on the floor this season.
It’s not just Hibbert. On any given possession, the Pacers perimeter defense will sag off, and you’ll often see all five Pacers have one foot in or near the painted area. It’s a sound strategy, and it’s worked wonders for the Pacers.
But that extra attention in the paint comes with one caveat: the Pacers will occasionally leave a three-point shooter open just one pass away. As a result, opponents have shot a scorching 41.3% against Indiana this season on spot-up threes, and most have come because the Pacers have left just a little too much space trying to defend the paint.
Here’s three examples — one from the Toronto Raptors, one from the Chicago Bulls, and one from the Cleveland Cavaliers — of the Pacers perimeter defense helping off just a bit too much, leaving space on the perimeter for shooters to fire away.
The Nets succeed when they play a solid inside-out game, dictating their offense through Brook Lopez in the paint and then spreading the ball outside when they draw in defenses. The Pacers provide a perfect chance to exploit that, and it’s not just Lopez’s post ability that can make that difference. As you’ll see in the video below, Tristan Thompson sets a butt-screen on Lance Stephenson, allowing Dion Waiters just a shred more space, and forcing the slower Hibbert to roam 20 feet from the basket to contest the shot too late.
The Nets are well-equipped to exploit this mismatch. Brook Lopez draws defensive help as much as any big man in the league, and Kevin Garnett is smart enough to annoy perimeter defenders in the high post. Deron Williams, if he’s healthy, excels at attacking off the dribble and getting into the lane. Flanking those three are Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson, two excellent spot-up three-point shooters. When they go to the bench, Andray Blatche can replace Lopez’s role as an interior scorer (provided he stays near the basket), and Jason Terry and Alan Anderson are both excellent three-point shooters off the bench.
The Nets haven’t had the start to the season they envisioned, with two close losses turning them from a 4-1 team to a 2-3 clunker. A win at home against the only undefeated team in the NBA might be just the medicine this team needs heading into a three-day break. If they can draw Indiana’s defense into the paint, then spread the ball to the perimeter to their top shooters, they might be able to take down Indiana’s world-class defense.