The Indiana Pacers struggled to score throughout much of the regular season. By the end of January, they were registering only 98.9 points per 100 possessions, which would rank 27th in the league had it marked their full season effort, per NBA.com. For the next two months, though, the Pacers went on a bit of a scoring binge, scoring 108.1 points per 100 possessions (4th) in February and 104.8 in March (10th).
The offense slumped back to 100.9 in their final seven regular season games, but has rebounded against Atlanta in the playoffs. The Pacers have scored a ridiculous 117.8 points per 100 possessions in Games 1 and 2, by far the best mark of any playoff team. They key, especially in Game 2, has been generating good looks out of the post.
The Pacers ranked second in the league in percentage of plays that ended with a post-up, per mySynergySports, ranking behind only the Utah Jazz. Between Roy Hibbert and David West, the Pacers have two of the most prolific post-up threats in the league, and the Hawks are devoting a lot of attention to stopping them.
This is Indiana’s first half court possession of the game. As the ball is entered to Hibbert in the post, it looks like the Hawks are planning to play him straight up with Al Horford. Horford is a solid post defender – opponents shot just over 40% from the field against him on post-ups this season, per Synergy. However, once George Hill begins his cut through the lane, Jeff Teague abandons Hill and comes with a late double to force Hibbert to give up the ball. Hibbert hits Hill with a quick pass over his shoulder and Hill gets a good look at a layup. He doesn’t connect, but the play is instructive for how the Pacers will attack the Atlanta defense the rest of the game.
A few possessions later, the Hawks – and Teague in particular – are so concerned with stopping the ball from ever getting to Hibbert that they fall asleep and give up a wide open three. When Hill passes the ball to Lance Stephenson on the wing, Teague sinks all the way down to the free throw line on Hibbert’s side to get in position to bring a double team.
Teague strays way too far from Hill, who shoots 39.5% on above the break threes, per NBA.com, and Hill uses the open space to knock down the catch-and-shoot look. With Kyle Korver guarding a poor outside shooter in Stephenson, there’s no reason for Teague to play so far off his man, especially one that’s only one pass away. Korver could have backed off even more to deny the post entry to Hibbert, or the Hawks could have sent the double once Hibbert caught the ball, as they did in the play above.
Later in the first quarter, the Pacers enter the ball to Hibbert on the opposite block, clearing out the entire side of the court for him and Paul George. Once George enters the ball into the post, he cuts directly at Hibbert (this is a standard cut within the Indiana offense, and most good post-up offenses), rubbing off his shoulder for a hand-off opportunity on the way by. Hibbert doesn’t hand it off, but he does clip Devin Harris with a screen, giving George space to get backdoor. Knowing he’s given his teammate the separation he needs, Hibbert wheels around and throws a pass over the top to George for an easy layup.
Sensing all the extra attention the Hawks were devoting to their straight post-ups, the Pacers starting using different ways to get Hibbert the ball.
A few times throughout the game, the Pacers used the tic-tac-toe play, having Hibbert set a high screen and roll down the lane into post position before swinging the ball to the wing and then throwing the entry pass. Screen, swing, seal. This is effective because it gets the defense moving around before they ever think about the entry pass coming, and also because it draws the most likely doubler out of Hibbert’s space.
On each of these three plays, the man who eventually throws the entry pass to Hibbert started the play on the same block where Hibbert eventually catches the ball for his post-up. But when Hibbert screens for Hill at the top of the key, that man slides up behind the pick-and-roll to the wing to catch the outlet pass and then hit Hibbert with a post entry. Hibbert gets two baskets and a foul on these three plays, and West got a basket when the Pacers ran action like this as well.
Here, Hibbert sets a pin-down screen for Tyler Hansbrough on the block before ducking into post position. It’s not exactly complicated, but again the Pacers are throwing just a little bit of misdirection at the Hawks before entering the ball into the post. Hibbert puts the ball on the floor, but by the time Devin Harris gets there with his double, Hibbert has already drawn a foul and is headed to the line for two free throws.
Finally, here’s a set the Pacers ran to get Hibbert a basket a couple times in the second half.
The Pacers are in a 1-4 high set, with Hibbert and Hansbrough at the elbows, Gerald Green and George on the wings, and Hill handling the ball just to the right of the top of the key. Green cuts through and comes out near the top of the key and gets the pass from Hill before entering to Hansbrough at the left elbow.
You can already see what’s about to happen. Hibbert floats down from the elbow to the right block, while Hill and George converge there with him to for a cluster. As that’s happening, Green rubs off Hansbrough’s shoulder for a possible hand-off opportunity.
Hibbert and George emerge from the cluster on the right block moving in opposite directions. George pops out to the three point line on the wing, while Hibbert rubs off Hill’s screen and emerges in the middle of the lane, providing a nice, big target for Hansbrough to hit.
The second play is exactly the same except that George and Green switch places, and Hibbert blows the relatively easy hook in the lane.
All told, the Pacers finished 18 plays with post-ups on Wednesday, per Synergy, shooting 8-for-11 from the field with three shooting fouls (and two non-shooting fouls) drawn. They also assisted three baskets directly out of the post, and the attention they – especially Hibbert – drew on the block cleared space for even more. Combined in the two games, Indiana has scored a basket or gotten to the free throw line on 19 of 36 plays finished with a post-up and, with those two non-shooting fouls included, has generated a positive outcome on 58.3% of their post-up plays.