Game Time: Pistons 114, Pacers 110
If the Pacers are relatively short on sheer talent, they hustle, execute and are extremely well-coached.
Let's scrutinize Indiana's roster to discover the details.
Danny Granger: He's strictly a rhythm shooter but, man, can he fill it! Granger can catch-and-shoot; pull-and-shoot left and right; and his pet move is to drive, bump, then step back and let it fly. His passing, however, is somewhat erratic — he can always see (six assists) but can't always deliver (six turnovers). On defense, he's merely adequate — he routinely fails to step out and help on weak-side screens and curls — but he is the Pacers' most effective shot-blocker.
The verdict: His defense needs improving, but he's certainly a bona fide All-Star.
T.J. Ford: For most of the game, he could bring the ball into the paint whenever he desired — and his kick-outs were right on the money. But Ford never did anything with his left hand except to set up his right-handed dribble; he forced a pair of shots; and on defense he was confounded just about every time he had to navigate past a screen.
The verdict: Opponents' defenses would be unable to gang up on Ford as much as they do if Mike Dunleavy was around to provide another hot-shooting target for his drives-and-dishes. Still, Ford doesn't shoot, defend or go left well enough to be the full-time floor leader of a team with championship aspirations.
Troy Murphy: He isn't much of a presence on defense where he always seems to be a half-step behind the unfolding of every play. On the other end of the court, he sets adequate screens, is an inferior passer and relies on long-range shooting. Except for his rebounding prowess and his lack of athleticism, Murphy plays like a small forward. On the one sequence where he ventured into the pivot — only because Rodney Stuckey was guarding him in a mismatched switch — Murphy ignored his 6-inch height advantage to take (and make) a twisting, off-balance, fade-away jumper.
The verdict: If he shoots well, he plays well.
Rasho Nesterovic: This guy is actually the fulcrum of much of Indiana's half-court offense. He receives the ball at the high post, then waits for his teammates to make various combinations of back-door cuts, back screens-and-pops, dive cuts and squeeze cuts before either passing or shooting his fairly accurate midrange jumpers. He also successfully teamed with Ford to score on a couple of nifty screen/rolls. Rasho's slow-motion lateral-movement becomes evident on defense, where he can show but is only occasionally able to recover.
The verdict: His intelligence and strength serve to maximize his limited skills, but he's best suited to be a backup.
Marquis Daniels: He's a slasher who makes smart and efficient cuts. Daniels is shaky with the ball in traffic, plays slightly better than average defense in iso situations, but loses his concentration when playing off-the-ball defense.
The verdict: An energy player who would be better employed on a second unit.
Jeff Foster: Plays the high post when Nesterovic is on the bench, has great hands and is the most athletic (as well as the best defender) of the Pacers' big men. Shoots 16-foot free throws (2-for-2), and even hit a midrange jumper from the left baseline. But his forte is rebounding.
The verdict: One of the most underrated backup centers in the league.
Jarrett Jack: Strong, fearless, smart — but not very smooth with the ball — and has no shooting stroke. Played good defense against Allen Iverson and Rip Hamilton — was hurt most often when he tried to top screens.
The verdict: An excellent backup point, but one with obvious limitations.
What's right with this team?
Most of what Ford does. Foster's defensive rotations and rebounding. Some of what Murphy does. Their up-tempo and early-offense opportunities. Their teamwide unselfishness, discipline and hustle. Coach Jim O'Brien's ability to get his players to overachieve. And just about everything that Granger does.
What's wrong with this team?
Some of what Ford does. The lack of a scorer off the bench — which is why Granger plays with the second unit. The continuing absence of Dunleavy. The absence of anybody who's a threat to score in the low post. And the limited skills of all of their bigs.
Even though the Pacers are 7-15, their winning percentage will improve when/if Dunleavy returns. But no matter what their immediate destiny might be, Indiana is still better off with Murphy and Dunleavy than they were with Jamaal Tinsley, Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson.
At least, the Pacers currently have the kind of players that devoted Indiana fans can feel good about rooting for.