HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — As the TNT audience witnessed on Thursday night, Pacers basketball ain’t pretty. Sure, Carmelo Anthony was out for the Knicks, but an 81-76 result isn’t exactly atypical for a Pacers game, no matter who’s on the floor.
The victory, which brought the surging Pacers within a game and a half of the Knicks for second place in the Eastern Conference, was the ninth game the Pacers have won in which they scored less than 90 points. No other team in the league has more than three such victories this season.
Through Thursday, the Pacers rank No. 1 in the league in defensive efficiency, allowing just 95.4 points per 100 possessions. And they rank 29th in offensive efficiency, scoring just 97.8. To make things even uglier, they’ve played at the third slowest pace in the league, just 92.4 possessions per 48 minutes.
Put that all together and you’ve got just 180.0 total points in your average Pacers game. That’s the lowest total PPG average of any team since significant rules changes were made after the ugly 2003-04 season. Yes, even lower than any team had in last year’s lockout-shortened season.
Fewest total points (scored + allowed) per game, last nine seasons
Though the games may be painful to watch, the above list isn’t necessarily bad company to be in. Assuming both the Pacers and Grizzlies make the postseason, seven of the 10 teams above are playoff teams, and two made the conference finals. No. 14 on this list is the 2004-05 Spurs, who beat the above-listed Pistons in The Finals.
After a slow start, the Pacers are now proving that they’re a top-four team in the East. In just the last 11 days, they’ve knocked off the Grizzlies, Bucks, Heat and Knicks. With some help from a home-heavy schedule, they’re 12-3 since Dec. 12, having allowed a paltry 92.2 points per 100 possessions over the 15 games.
They’re essentially out-Thibodeau-ing the Bulls, who they lead by a game and a half in the Central Division. The two most efficient shots in the game are shots from the restricted area and corner 3-pointers. The Pacers are No. 1 in defending both.
Mike Wells, writing for USA Today, has the story from Indianapolis…
If you didn’t believe in the Pacers before, it’s time to start believing now.
“I think our confidence is high and I think it’s been like that all year,” Pacers point guard George Hill said. “We let a lot of games slip and let some tough ones slip away, too. But we think we can compete with any team in the NBA and we have to carry ourselves that way and keep playing that way.”
The way the Pacers play isn’t always pretty. Their offense is still miles behind their defense, which is the best in the NBA. They put their workman boots on and compete every game.
The Pacers held the Knicks to 35% shooting. New York guard J.R. Smith came off the bench to lead all scorers with 25 points.
“They’re rising to the challenge,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Anybody that knows sports knows that a team that can be the best defensive team in the league, whatever sport it is, has a chance to go all the way. We’re keeping it on an even keel. We’re understanding what we’re doing defensively is special. If our offense ever starts catching up, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
Things may change when Danny Granger comes back from his left knee injury. But we’ve learned that timely and unimpaired returns from extended absences are no guarantee in this league.
Meanwhile, the Pacers have learned how to win (ugly) without their All-Star forward.