Indiana Pacers 114, Houston Rockets 81 – So that’s what defence looks like

Ever since they smothered the Rockets in their sole visit to Houston last year, the Pacers have been one of my favourite teams to watch. I’m fascinated by how they are able to force teams to take shots they don’t want to take and strangle the opposition’s offence, and I was eager to see whether this year’s iteration of the Rockets would fare any better. On the basis of tonight’s showing the answer is an emphatic “NO!”. In the second half the Pacers dominated the Rockets in pretty much every facet of the game, stretching the lead out and cruising to a comprehensive victory.

  • There were three key areas the Pacers excelled in defensively tonight that allowed them to run away with the game:
    • Their discipline in defensive transition was incredible. No matter what they tried, the Rockets just could not generate any opportunities when they pushed the ball. It almost seemed as though the Pacers defenders were teleported back to their paint after the shot went up.
    • You do not get open three point shots against the Pacers. Ever. Against any other team a kickout to the corner would generate an open look, but Indiana’s weakside helpers are so quick to recover to their man that the shot just isn’t there. This was not just a bad shooting night – there’s a reason the Rockets were 4-21 from behind the arc.
    • Any over-dribbling is punished by quick hands knocking the ball away. This was particularly a problem for Harden, who likes his intricate dribbles – Paul George was constantly bothering his handle and knocking the ball away. It kills the possibility of any penetration and often leaves someone with a tough look as the clock expires.
  • Howard vs. Hibbert was always going to be fun to watch. In the pre-season games between these two teams, frankly Howard was awful if he allowed Hibbert time to get set before making his move. So it was great to see just how effective Howard was in the post tonight  - really he was the lone bright spot in an otherwise miserable performance by the team. He was making smooth moves with just enough unpredictability about them to avoid wandering hands of defenders coming down to double team. The result was a stream of high-quality looks, most of which he was able to convert on his way to a 19 point (9-16 shooting), 12 rebound, 5 block line. You can tell the time that he is spending with the big name big man coaches associated with the team is paying off.
  • Last year Harden struggled big time against the long arms and keen defensive presence of Paul George. Given George’s evolution as an offensive threat over the past year, I was worried that we might see Harden embarrassed on both ends of the floor tonight. To give him credit, I thought he looked much sharper than usual defensively, but offensively he was almost completely shut down (12 points on 3-14 FGs).  Apart from some occasional success with the pump fake, Harden doesn’t seem to have any way of getting past George and into the paint. This is where the Rockets really miss Lin – they need another way of getting dribble penetration on nights like this when Harden is ineffective. Without that, the half-court offence bogged down and the team could not find ways to score.
  • The Pacers felt they had a mismatch in the post with West matching up against Jones and went to it often. They were right, too – he was able to consistently get good position and Jones found it very difficult to stop him. Admittedly, West is a difficult cover, but it is problematic if Jones is unable to handle opponents down low. In theory he is the bigger 4 in the rotation and as such he is who McHale wants to turn to if the opposing PF is being aggressive in the post. If he can’t be the guy who stops that, then he’s not going to be able to get as many minutes as you’d like.
  • Perhaps because of the above, McHale played Smith at the 4 alongside Howard for stretches tonight. Playing the two of them together coincided with the Rockets going on a run and it actually looked pretty good defensively. They were able to shut down the paint and stay at home on opposing shooters since the Pacers were not playing a stretch 4. I remain unconvinced that it’s something McHale should be going to too often though because it feels like there would have to be spacing issues offensively, but perhaps this can be a situationally effective tool against bigger teams.
  • While the defense looked solid with Smith at PF, it didn’t look great with him at the C. Casspi was giving up size to Scola, and unlike when Howard is on the floor there isn’t really the inside presence to help out. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a defensively-talented 7-footer we could put on the floor when Howard sits? Oh wait. If Morey isn’t going to trade Asik, they need to get him back on the court as soon as they can.
  • Speaking of Scola, he had a bit of a throwback game tonight. He even hit a three early in the second quarter! I guess he’s been expanding his range. Always nice to see him doing well.
  • On the evidence of tonight, the Pacers may be the worst match-up possible for this Rockets team. Their defensive strengths are almost tailor-made to cancel out the areas the Rockets rely on to score points. It’s not something you have to say very often, but for once I’m actually glad the Rockets are in the Western Conference so they only have to face these guys twice per year.

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  • MrLobble says 7 months ago

    Rockets actually rank as one of the highest iso teams in the league at 10%, while utilizing the pick and roll on only 8% of buckets, this needs to change. The biggest problem is the defense though, for all the praise we have been giving Jones he has made us look silly every time he fails to rotate or be in the right place at the right time.

    To be fair, you can't put it all on Jones... Rotations usually happen because there's a breakdown in the defense and someone gives up dribble penetration... Is it fair to blame Jones when his perimeter guards are giving up direct drive the entire game-- and forcing rotations every play?? This team seriously needs to man up on the perimeter and play with some pride

  • Knickabokkaz says 7 months ago

    Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose poured cold water on the Rockets on the ESPN post-game show. Uncertainty and suboptimal production regarding the #1/#4, poor 3pt shooting this month and the absence of a Plan b when the 3pt shot isn't falling Rockets were their main issues. I took from their comments that Lin and Asik need to be better integrated into the rotation for this team to have that Plan b and to better address the deficiencies at the #1/#4 (Rose talked about trading for Spencer Hawes, which is essentially equivalent to saying that Asik or his comparable replacement should play the #4,not Jones and co.). The game summary write-up pretty much captures Lin's importance. In my view, Lin's real value is that he constantly puts the opposing defense on its heels. He gets into the paint at will, can make plays for himself and teammates, gets to the line and shoots a high percentage. He is a better PG than James Harden. If the coaching staff ever recognizes this, Houston will take a big step towards becoming an elite team.

    The Rockets should actually slow down their offense instead of running so much to shoot as many 3s as possible. They are most effective with the pick and roll when both Harden and Lin are cutting defenses up, getting to the line or swinging the ball for the corner 3 or the layup to the pick setter. When they have a balance of opportunistic fast breaks and half court pick and roll, their defense is better positioned. Lin and Harden are both big guards. Slowing down the pace a bit would actually help them defensively. It would also help out Howard. Right now, their offense is helter skelter. The ball moves with no real purpose and Harden either ends up with a bad shot or Howard gets played one on one on the block with no movement from anyone. Indiana was happy to guard Howard one on one, not send him to the line and let him take his shots. I rarely see Howard pass out of the post because Houston has no real concept of inside-out play in the half court set.

    Great post but honestly, you just got your fingers tired for nothing. Nothing's going to change, we all know Lin would have helped, and he should be in the starting lineup instead of Beverley. (Atleast he deserves to be).

    This was a preview of playoff basketball. You take Harden out the game, it's like chopping the snakes head off and everything else gets flustered, no ball movement, no drive and kick, too much ISO. I don't want to hear all these fans on twitter saying Harden > George! Please Paul George did everything and anything he wanted to Harden. He practically undressed Harden every which way possible. What's his FG% against PG? 25% since last year?.

    Come playoff time, your gonna start seeing guys reallly key in on Harden, and when Lin comes in, he's gonna get keyed in as well. But you can't key on BOTH of them at the SAME time. This regular season stuff you're seeing is delusional to how defenses will really play you, your going to need Lin in that starting lineup to maximize your true potential.
  • Steven says 7 months ago

    Rockets actually rank as one of the highest iso teams in the league at 10%, while utilizing the pick and roll on only 8% of buckets, this needs to change. The biggest problem is the defense though, for all the praise we have been giving Jones he has made us look silly every time he fails to rotate or be in the right place at the right time.

    The regular season is about finding what truely works. The Rockets have put the pick and roll on the back burner as of now to not show their hand too much. When the real season starts in May, then we will see the pick and roll.
  • 2016Champions says 7 months ago Rockets actually rank as one of the highest iso teams in the league at 10%, while utilizing the pick and roll on only 8% of buckets, this needs to change. The biggest problem is the defense though, for all the praise we have been giving Jones he has made us look silly every time he fails to rotate or be in the right place at the right time.
  • MrLobble says 7 months ago

    When James Harden plays as a playmaker, he is amazing and one of the best guards in the league. However, it seems like when the spotlight is on (nationally televised game/big matchup), he never sees a bad shot...

    James Harden killed us tonight. Dwight was dominating in the post, but we were forced to watch Harden's colossal failure... After way too many bricks from an atrocious shot selection, he then went into desperation mode--hoping the refs would bail him by flopping all over the court. In result, Indiana was able to practice their 3-on-2 and 2-on-1 fast break drills tonight.

    It's during these frustrating times that I wish McHale would make a statement... To counter the Harden show, I wish the McHale would immediately facilitate the offense through Chandler Parsons. Some fans think his first step is to slow, he can't create his own shot, and he pump fakes too much---but WHAT HE DOES is makes plays for his teammates. He constantly hits the open man... Who knows? After a few good plays, and you can switch the momentum!

  • Dayak says 7 months ago I hope Harden will put more effort on defensive end by seeing how PG plays his game. He's young and has a lot of time to get better. Go Rockets!
  • bearkat414 says 7 months ago

    It would not of mattered who was on our bench tonight. That was really bad. I miss the James Harden that knew how to shoot the ball. Is he not the Fraulien Maria I thought he once was? "Oh how do you solve a problem like harden….."

  • miketheodio says 7 months ago

    they have been slowing the offense down lately.

  • rm90025 says 7 months ago

    Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose poured cold water on the Rockets on the ESPN post-game show. Uncertainty and suboptimal production regarding the #1/#4, poor 3pt shooting this month and the absence of a Plan b when the 3ptshot isn't falling Rockets were their main issues.I took from their comments that Lin and Asik need to be better integrated into the rotation for this team to have that Planb and to better address the deficiencies at the #1/#4 (Rose talked about trading for Spencer Hawes, which is essentially equivalent to saying that Asik or his comparable replacement should play the #4,not Jones and co.). The game summary write-uppretty much captures Lin's importance.In my view, Lin's real value is that he constantly puts the opposing defense on its heels. He gets into the paint at will, can make plays for himself and teammates, gets to the line and shoots a high percentage.He is a better PG than James Harden.If the coaching staff ever recognizes this, Houston will take a big step towards becoming an elite team.

    The Rockets should actually slow down their offense instead of running so much to shoot as many 3s as possible. They are most effective with the pick and roll when both Harden and Lin are cutting defenses up, getting to the line or swinging the ball for the corner 3 or the layup to the pick setter. When they have a balance of opportunistic fast breaks and half court pick and roll, their defense is better positioned. Lin and Harden are both big guards.Slowing down the pace a bit would actually help them defensively. It would also help out Howard. Right now, their offense is helter skelter. The ball moves with no real purpose and Harden either ends up with a bad shot or Howard gets played one on one on the block with no movement from anyone. Indiana was happy to guard Howard one on one, not send him to the line and let him take his shots. I rarely see Howard pass out of the post because Houston has no real concept ofinside-out play in the half court set.

  • bboley24 says 7 months ago

    I miss Jeremy and Omer!!!! We could've DEFINITELY used them tonight.

  • rocketrick says 7 months ago

    Nice write-up Rob. I think you covered all the bases all too well........

  • Red94 says 7 months ago New post: Indiana Pacers 114, Houston Rockets 81 - So That's What Defence Looks Like
    By: Rob Dover

    Ever since they smothered the Rockets in their sole visit to Houston last year, the Pacers have been one of my favourite teams to watch. I'm fascinated by how they are able to force teams to take shots they don't want to take and strangle the opposition's offence, and I was eager to see whether this year's iteration of the Rockets would fare any better. On the basis of tonight's showing the answer is an emphatic "NO!". In the second half the Pacers dominated the Rockets in pretty much every facet of the game, stretching the lead out and cruising to a comprehensive victory.

    • There were three key areas the Pacers excelled in defensively tonight that allowed them to run away with the game:
      • Their discipline in defensive transition was incredible. No matter what they tried, the Rockets just could not generate any opportunities when they pushed the ball. It almost seemed as though the Pacers defenders were teleported back to their paint after the shot went up.
      • You do not get open three point shots against the Pacers. Ever. Against any other team a kickout to the corner would generate an open look, but Indiana's weakside helpers are so quick to recover to their man that the shot just isn't there. This was not just a bad shooting night - there's a reason the Rockets were 4-21 from behind the arc.
      • Any over-dribbling is punished by quick hands knocking the ball away. This was particularly a problem for Harden, who likes his intricate dribbles - Paul George was constantly bothering his handle and knocking the ball away. It kills the possibility of any penetration and often leaves someone with a tough look as the clock expires.
    • Howard vs. Hibbert was always going to be fun to watch. In the pre-season games between these two teams, frankly Howard was awful if he allowed Hibbert time to get set before making his move. So it was great to see just how effective Howard was in the post tonight  - really he was the lone bright spot in an otherwise miserable performance by the team. He was making smooth moves with just enough unpredictability about them to avoid wandering hands of defenders coming down to double team. The result was a stream of high-quality looks, most of which he was able to convert on his way to a 19 point (9-16 shooting), 12 rebound, 5 block line. You can tell the time that he is spending with the big name big man coaches associated with the team is paying off.
    • Last year Harden struggled big time against the long arms and keen defensive presence of Paul George. Given George's evolution as an offensive threat over the past year, I was worried that we might see Harden embarrassed on both ends of the floor tonight. To give him credit, I thought he looked much sharper than usual defensively, but offensively he was almost completely shut down (12 points on 3-14 FGs).  Apart from some occasional success with the pump fake, Harden doesn't seem to have any way of getting past George and into the paint. This is where the Rockets really miss Lin - they need another way of getting dribble penetration on nights like this when Harden is ineffective. Without that, the half-court offence bogged down and the team could not find ways to score.
    • The Pacers felt they had a mismatch in the post with West matching up against Jones and went to it often. They were right, too - he was able to consistently get good position and Jones found it very difficult to stop him. Admittedly, West is a difficult cover, but it is problematic if Jones is unable to handle opponents down low. In theory he is the bigger 4 in the rotation and as such he is who McHale wants to turn to if the opposing PF is being aggressive in the post. If he can't be the guy who stops that, then he's not going to be able to get as many minutes as you'd like.
    • Perhaps because of the above, McHale played Smith at the 4 alongside Howard for stretches tonight. Playing the two of them together coincided with the Rockets going on a run and it actually looked pretty good defensively. They were able to shut down the paint and stay at home on opposing shooters since the Pacers were not playing a stretch 4. I remain unconvinced that it's something McHale should be going to too often though because it feels like there would have to be spacing issues offensively, but perhaps this can be a situationally effective tool against bigger teams.
    • While the defense looked solid with Smith at PF, it didn't look great with him at the C. Casspi was giving up size to Scola, and unlike when Howard is on the floor there isn't really the inside presence to help out. Wouldn't it be nice if we had a defensively-talented 7-footer we could put on the floor when Howard sits? Oh wait. If Morey isn't going to trade Asik, they need to get him back on the court as soon as they can.
    • Speaking of Scola, he had a bit of a throwback game tonight. He even hit a three early in the second quarter! I guess he's been expanding his range. Always nice to see him doing well.
    • On the evidence of tonight, the Pacers may be the worst match-up possible for this Rockets team. Their defensive strengths are almost tailor-made to cancel out the areas the Rockets rely on to score points. It's not something you have to say very often, but for once I'm actually glad the Rockets are in the Western Conference so they only have to face these guys twice per year.
  • rocketrick says 7 months ago

    Let's see if Harden learns something from this game tonight. Too many turnovers and unnecessary 3 point shots by Harden when the Rockets still were in the game in my opinion. Harden needs to learn to have more patience, move the ball and feed the big man and learn how to play off D12 to get his offense going when teams like the Pacers are defending our fast break and open 3 point shot style of game.

    Learning curve, this will take more time.

  • thenit says 7 months ago All starters except harden shot reasonably well and we still didn't look good as a team. Pacers is just a better Team right now. We have more talent just need to put it together. And the bench was poor as well.
  • Cooper says 7 months ago Small silver lining Howard outplayed hibbert.
  • rocketrick says 7 months ago

    Don't forget, Indiana has an excellent defense and they forced their will on the Rockets tonight. It does prove how important it is for the Rockets to continue feeding D12 and going to that as their primary offense when their fastbreak and open 3 offense is too well defended as it obviously was tonight by Indiana. Indiana was on a 2 game losing streak plus tonight Granger played for the first time in like over a year or so. So a lot of things working in Indiana's favor tonight.

    Still, I hate making excuses and at least the Rockets have another game tomorrow against Detroit so the painof this gameshouldn't last for too long.

  • miketheodio says 7 months ago

    yikes. made the rockets look like scrubs. last year, i disliked how reliant the team was on 3s and PnR, now it's the opposite. i hope they figure out how to blend the styles together.

    who knows, maybe they are figuring out how to play at a slower pace right now, so the problems won't be there later in the season.

  • rocketrick says 7 months ago

    Wow just goes to show how badly we need Lin and asik. We need them BADLY!


    Yep, so much for the Rockets so called under-utilized bench. I think the Rockets real bench players must still be stuck at the airport or something because these guys tonight look even worse than the starters if that is possible.
  • Buckko says 7 months ago Wow just goes to show how badly we need Lin and asik. We need them BADLY!
  • Cooper says 7 months ago George seems to have hardens number.
  • 2016Champions says 7 months ago I think Asik getting his knee drained confirms that his injury is legit, I think many of us had our doubts - myself included.
  • rocketrick says 7 months ago

    Have they made it official asik is out?


    I heard he's not even traveling with the team this weekend. I assume he's dealing with his injury locally, seeing his doctor, continuing to get treatment, etc.

    Get well big fellow, we need you!
  • Buckko says 7 months ago Have they made it official asik is out?
  • rocketrick says 7 months ago

    it seems to me that both teams are great on paper but the Pacers have had more time together and play at a high level more consistently.
    Is that because they are better coached then us? or is it just time together? Who knows.
    But I do think this is a game we have a 40 to 45% chance of winning. It really depends on who is the most focused and who gets hot shooting. We can take them...only they will more consistently win over us.


    Were it not for his nagging injury, this could have been the coming out party for Asik's return to the Rockets this season.
  • John P says 7 months ago

    it seems to me that both teams are great on paper but the Pacers have had more time together and play at a high level more consistently.
    Is that because they are better coached then us? or is it just time together? Who knows.

    But I do think this is a game we have a 40 to 45% chance of winning. It really depends on who is the most focused and who gets hot shooting. We can take them...only they will more consistently win over us.

  • Buckko says 7 months ago

    We are going to need asik, but so far the rockets have proven to show up in big games.

  • RollingWave says 7 months ago

    yeah, Pacers seem to be less dominant against teams with size, so depending on if Jones can take on West we should be alright.

    They really don't have a weak link now that Stephanson's suddenly playing like a borderline star. though their bench remains suspect, so hopefully we get Lin / Asik back, since it would appear that the best hopes of beating them is through the bench units

  • NorEastern says 7 months ago

    Asik would make a huge difference against the Pacers. The Rockets would have the meat and muscle to take on the Pacers front court. That being said I see this game as a probable loss. The Rockets probably cannot beat the Pacers on their home court without being at full strength.