Afseth Analysis: Pacers' Defense Loses Effectiveness Without Myles Turner

Grant Afseth

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Indiana Pacers wrapped up their West Coast trip with a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, falling 129-96. The Pacers were without center Myles Turner, and his absence hurt the Pacers on the defensive end in a big way.

A critical element to the Pacers' success on defense with Turner is his ability to rotate as a weak-side help defender to protect the rim. He is able to clean up a lot of mistakes made out on the perimeter by on-ball defenders while needing minimal help from the low man to pre-rotate to the paint. 

Against the Clippers, the Pacers began with a run-of-the-mill man-to-man defensive scheme. The limitations of their rim protection capabilities with Domantas Sabonis at the center position were quickly made apparent. 

The Pacers began pre-rotating Doug McDermott to the paint to provide additional assistance for the unit inside. Doing so left Indiana's defense routinely vulnerable to kick-outs leading to open spot-up three-pointers while providing almost no noticeable impact against drives to the rim. 

When the Pacers were in man-to-man coverage, there was an apparent strategy by the Clippers' offense to use Sabonis' assignment out in space at times, too. Los Angeles was able to get downhill against him with little resistance being provided. 

After struggling to slow down the Clippers' lane penetration, the Pacers sprinkled in some double-teams to try to achieve a better result. Los Angeles was able to exploit this by creating easy ball movement sequences against a Pacers defense that was scrambling to recover.

Something needed to change since matching straight up in man-to-man was not going to work. Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren turned to various zone defenses to slow down Clippers superstars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard to no avail. 

Bjorkgren explained to reporters after the game how the Clippers managed to break the different zone looks Indiana deployed throughout the matchup. 

"We played a lot of different defenses. I was trying some different things out there and our guys, they have such an elite level of thinking that they can handle different defenses and they can handle them on the fly...You have to have a smart team who cares and plays hard to do that." 

The initial zone scheme the Pacers deployed against the Clippers was a box-and-one look in the later stage of the opening period. Los Angeles made it a point to attack the weak-point of this strategy by playing inside-out. Los Angeles faced little resistance and was consistently generating dribble penetration. Other times, simple ball movement got the ball to open spot-up shooters. 

The Clippers quickly adjusted to the box-and-one strategy the Pacers deployed. It became difficult for Indiana to recover as a result after Los Angeles had managed to build momentum as a unit. 

"They started making shots," Sabonis said, via Associated Press. "I feel like we left guys too open. We were throwing out a lot of different defenses and they caught on to the box-and-one and it was harder for us to catch up."

The Pacers shifted course from a box-and-one zone by deploying a 2-1-2 zone, otherwise known as a triangle-and-two. Similar shortcomings occurred as Indiana continued to create vulnerabilities that consistently left their unit having to scramble in recovery. 

It was a justifiable decision for the Pacers to get creative with their defensive strategies in the half-court. The personnel to get the job done against a Clippers team with two superstars and talented role players just weren't available for Indiana. 

The Pacers will not be able to get the job done defensively against starting level talent with Sabonis at the five spot unless they have a versatile defender alongside him in the frontcourt. Right now, McDermott is more of a liability than an asset defending as a small-ball four -- only exacerbating the issue. 

Getting Turner back into the lineup will be a necessity for the Pacers defensively. He was recently diagnosed with an avulsion fracture in his right hand but is currently considered day-to-day in terms of a timetable for a return to game action. 

The Pacers return to action on Wednesday when they take on the Dallas Mavericks (6-7) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. 

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