Despite the fact the NBA has moved past the physical style of play the Detroit Pistons rode to success in the 1980’s, the Pacers appear to be trying to bring that physical style of basketball back. The team currently ranks first in rebounds and points allowed while only scoring 93.9 per game (25th in the NBA).
The Pacers are playing a form of old school basketball to perfection with an emphasis on playing gritty defense, limiting opponent’s second chances and hitting their open looks on offense.
“They are tough, physical, and nasty,” Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said before his team played the Pacers on Friday. “They play playoff basketball every night. They are not into playing an up and down game they just come down the court and try to carve you apart. That’s what we talked about today in shootaround – the guys need to bring their hard hats tonight because it will be one of those teams where they hit, bang, bump you at any moment, at any time. Any time they get a chance they will bump you and try to do anything to rattle you physically and legally.”
You’d think that kind of style would wear down the team because they play it every night. Heck, it wears down teams like Toronto and they only see Indiana a couple of times each season.
Teams need to grind out games against the Pacers as shown by the fact the Raptors had nearly as many fouls (25) as made field goals (29).
“That’s the only way of basketball we know,” Paul George boasted. “If you look at any game we played this season, that’s our style. We approach each game with a playoff mentality and the results, well, we’re happy with them.”
“I think it wears down teams mentally and physically,” Roy Hibbert added. “Teams get frustrated and they foul when we play extremely physical. It’s just in our DNA.”
That frustration was on display when Roy Hibbert and David Lee, Steph Curry and David West were involved in a shoving match that spilled into the fans at The Oracle. The Pacers style of grind it out basketball lead to some escalated emotions during the Pacers game against the Warriors. No real punches were thrown – or at least no punches that a hockey player would respect – but suspensions were handed out to Hibbert and Lee while Curry, Klay Thompson, and Lance Stephenson were fined for escalating things.
The altercation started when Lee took exception to Hibbert playing him a little rough under the basket. After Lee lost his cool Hibbert wasn’t going to back down and things got a little rowdy.
Playing the game with a physical edge isn’t anything new as Tyler Hansbrough “flipped” rookie Jonas Valanciunas to the court the last time the Pacers hosted the Toronto Raptors. The play was heralded as dirty by announcers and fans and even Hansbrough’s head coach, Frank Vogel, agreed as Hansbrough didn’t see the court the rest of the game.
It’s that kind of physical style of play that borders on dirty that has become the trademark of the Pacers this season – they want to bump and bruise you in the halfcourt and their talented players hit timely shots on offense.
“We just have tough guys,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel bragged to the media this weekend. “Tyler Hansbrough. David West. Roy Hibbert. Danny Granger. We’ve got some tough guys on our team that like to play a physical brand of basketball. We welcome it. We embrace it. It’s part of competing. We’re out to win and that’s part of it.”
David West knows “if we come in and hit first and have that aggression level, especially on the defensive end, it will create opportunities for ourselves on the offensive end.”
“We don’t back down from anybody,” Roy Hibbert added.
This shift in playing style is a subtle one that may have been formed after the tough loss in the playoffs last season. The Pacers were up 2-1 on the Heat and appeared to upset the top seed when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade decided to put their team on their respective backs. The Pacers lost two home games after that and went into the summer with a bad taste in their mouths that has carried into this season and resulted in the team playing with a chip on their shoulders and a more physical style of play.
“Being in the playoff series, and having that experience, I think that’s where our physical style comes from,” George admitted. “We really gained as a team from that experience last year. Now our mindset is totally different. We learned about toughness and that we need to do everything tough.”
It appears a given that Miami will coast to the playoffs with the top seed in the Eastern Conference this season, but with New York wilting it appears that Indiana will head into the playoffs this season as the second seed in the East. It’s ironic that the team that was bullied and pushed around by Miami last year in the playoffs has learned a lesson from that and now look poised to be the defending champ’s biggest challenge this year.
It just goes to show what a little muscle, mental toughness and a willingness to push back can do for an NBA team.