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PHILADELPHIA — Rick Carlisle makes sure there are some rebounding drills in every Pacers’ practice, especially after last season when they finished last in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage. But he generally keeps it limited because the physicality required brings with it the potential for disaster.
“Every NBA coach’s nightmare are rebounding drills in practice,” Carlisle said. “Every time you turn around it looks like somebody’s going to get hurt.”
But Monday, Carlisle considered it necessary to take that risk because rebounding had just cost the Pacers a game. The 76ers outrebounded the Pacers 54-32 on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center, grabbing 23 offensive rebounds and turning those into 30 second-chance points. Of those 30, 23 came in the second half, 11 in the fourth quarter when Philadelphia put away what had been a close game. The Sixers grabbed nine offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter to the Pacers’ four defensive rebounds, meaning Philadelphia grabbed 69.2% of their own misses in the period, a wildly unacceptable number for Indiana.
So when the Pacers practiced between their two games against the 76ers on Monday in Temple’s practice facility at McGonigle Hall a few miles north on Broad Street, Carlisle devoted much of the proceedings to getting after it on the glass.
“We had to do it just to establish that this is a necessary thing,” Carlisle said. “This has got to be a habit.”
The change of mindset paid off immediately as the Pacers won Tuesday’s rebounding battle 41-38, which lead to a 132-126 victory that not only gave them a split in the two-game series and a statement victory over the team that had the best record in the NBA, but also gave them a 2-0 record in In-Season Tournament Pool Play and put them alone in first place in East Group A. The Pacers pulled down 10 offensive rebounds to the SIxers’ five, and both teams finished with eight second-chance points. With that advantage neutralized, the Sixers couldn’t keep up with one of the fastest, most explosive offensives in the league. The Sixers fell to 8-2 and the Pacers improved to 7-4, the third best record in the Eastern Conference behind only league favorites Philadelphia and Boston.
“The rebounding was a preposterous difference from the first game,” Carlisle said. “… Our guys made a great adjustment there.”
In fact, Tuesday’s game was proof of just how well the Pacers can adjust both between games and on the fly. That speaks well for what kind of playoff team the Pacers can be whenever that time comes, whether it’s this season or in the more distant future.
The NBA has increasingly looked to give teams the opportunity to play against each other twice in the same city over three days. They can only do it so often, but the Pacers will play consecutive games against the same team five more times this season. They’ll do it once more on the road against the Heat on Nov. 30 and Dec. 2, once at home with the Celtics on Jan. 6 and 8, and three more times in home/road splits with the Bucks, Pelicans and Nets. That gives them a chance to take lessons from one game and immediately apply them in the next.
“For having such a young team, I feel that shows a lot of maturity and a lot of growth to come to practice the next day and address what we did poorly,” said Pacers backup point guard T.J. McConnell, the oldest player on the team at just 31 and one of just three players on the roster older than 27. “It also says a lot about the staff, changing up the game plan and just having a great game plan tonight and executing it.”
The drastic difference in rebounding had something to do with schematic changes, Carlisle acknowledged, but it had more to do with the Pacers understanding just how necessary it was to be able to at least play the SIxers even on the boards. The presence of 7-foot, 280-pound reigning MVP Joel Embiid (8 offensive rebounds Sunday) makes that much easier said than done.
Anyone who had to deal with Embiid fought with him as hard as possible and made him earn his rebounds. He still managed 12 rebounds, but just three came on the offensive end and the rest of the team combined for just two.
“Mentality,” center Myles Turner said. “Our whole mentality shifted. The whole swarming mentality. Being there for your brothers, a whole bunch of next-man-up type of stuff. Our mentality just completely shifted.”
Beyond that mentality on the glass, the Pacers also made a clear schematic adjustment on the defensive end. That paid off to a lesser extent, but it still paid off and it showed that the Pacers’ coaching staff isn’t totally stubborn.
In their offseason attempts to fix a defense that finished 29th in the league in points allowed last season, the Pacers decided to employ a defensive approach that would use less help and force players to focus more on individual responsibility. Rather than bring in weakside help every time opponents would run pick-and-roll, they decided to defend those 2-on-2. They might switch on the ball screen and they might not, but they would keep the defenders not involved in the pick-and-roll from tagging or sagging off their men, which would, in turn, limit 3-point attempts.
The defense had been showing some positive results. The Pacers allow fewer 3-pointers (10.1 per game) on fewer attempts (26.4 per game) than any team in the league. However, they also give up more points in the paint than any team in the NBA. They are in the bottom five of scoring defense and defensive efficiency, and most relevant to Tuesday, their approach seemed to play directly into the Sixers’ hands.
Early in Sunday’s game, the Sixers immediately hit the Pacers with elbow pick and rolls with blossoming guard Tyrese Maxey and the MVP Embiid. Embiid was able to pulverize the Pacers whether they switched or not and when Maxey got a head of steam he could simply blow by both defenders especially without help coming over.
Maxey feasted on that approach with a career-high 50 points on 20 of 32 shooting, including 7 of 11 from 3-point range. Embiid added 37 and those 87 points more than made up for the fact that just two other players scored in double figures and the rest of the team was 7 of 22 from 3-point range.
“The way we played defense last game was kind of like playing to their strength a little bit,” forward Aaron Nesmith said after practice Monday.
They adjusted by having a help presence at the middle of the free throw line — also known as the “nail,” so they’d have someone to slow down Maxey when he was getting downhill off the screen. It was a step away from what had become their new principles, but it was clearly a step they had to take.
“If you look at baseball, right, you have a guy who’s a power hitter (to one side) so you shift your entire defense over,” center Myles Turner said. “It’s kind of the same philosophy to tonight. You have someone who can get downhill as fast as Maxey, you’ve got to shift your defense over and make someone else beat you. I think we did a better job of that tonight. He’s still going to get his.”
Indeed, Maxey did, but just not nearly as many, and not with nearly the same efficiency. He scored 27 points, but was 9 of 23 from the floor and 2 of 5 from 3-point range.
The Pacers also had to adjust on the fly to the problems Embiid and other circumstances were causing for the center position.
The Pacers were already down a man with Daniel Theis out for personal reasons. Turner was determined to play Embiid as physically as he could, but that led to him picking up his second foul just 4:15 into the first quarter and then fouls in the second and third that limited him to 7 minutes and 45 seconds in the game’s first three quarters. Jalen Smith checked in and picked up two quick fouls, checked out, then checked back in and took a nasty elbow from Philadelphia’s Marcus Morris Jr. Smith was diagnosed with a head injury and taken to a hospital for evaluation. He did not return. and further information wasn’t available immediately after the game.
The Pacers had to rely on Isaiah Jackson, who also got in foul trouble with four fouls in 17:23, but he hung in there and grabbed nine rebounds. The Pacers also went with a small lineup in which power forward Obi Toppin functioned as the center on offense and the 6-6 Nesmith guarded Embiid.
“That’s like being in a WWE ring,” Carlisle said. “You’re going against a guy who is probably one of the strongest guys in the world and one of the most skilled in professional sports.”
Embiid scored 39 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. He was 11 of 22 from the floor and 17 of 17 at the line, but the Sixers never controlled the game the way they did Sunday. The Pacers bigs made it just hard enough on him, and Turner poured in 15 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter to help put the game away.
“It speaks to this roster 1 through 15,” Turner said. “Guys that have been thrown in different positions all training camp. Having to guard 5s. Having to guard the 1. Switching. Doing all sorts of crazy stuff. I think our swarm defense was critical. … Me a couple years ago, I probably would have taken myself out of the game, but there’s four quarters of basketball.”
The Pacers’ ability to adjust, to shift mentality and game plan, allowed other brilliant performances to stand up. All-Star point guard Tyrese Haliburton followed a 25-point, 17-assist effort in defeat with 33 points and 15 assists in victory, setting a record for assists in a two-game period without a turnover. Toppin had his best game as a Pacer with 27 points on 12 of 15 shooting.
And in one of the toughest environments in the NBA, the Pacers got a better sense of the type of team they can be.
“We had an aggressive disposition from the start,” Turner said. “… That’s what it’s all about.”
We update regularly World Latest Breaking Business News here. We update 2023-11-20 02:52:04 this news story from official website – https://www.indystar.com/story/sports/nba/pacers/2023/11/15/pacers-vs-sixers-game-to-game-adjustments-give-pacers-key-win/71559269007/.”
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