When asked where his team’s biggest hole is on the defensive end, Indiana Pacers head coach Nate Bjorkgren is quick to conjure up a response.
“We just gotta finish our defense, meaning we have to finish it with the rebounds,” said Bjorkgren, following his team’s 120-112 overtime loss to the Bulls — a game in which Chicago out-rebounded Indiana 13-8 on the offensive glass. “We got out-rebounded last night. Some of those offensive rebounds turned out to be big shots that they made throughout the game and late in the game. So we have to continue to get better at our blocking out and rebounding in general and come up with those basketballs. Somehow, just fight and claw and come up with the loose basketballs because any possession that we can get we will take.”
After defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves in overtime on Wednesday, the Pacers now stand at a record of 15-14, which somewhat miraculously puts them at fourth in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. On the defensive side of things, the team ranks in the top half of the league in both opponent turnovers and opponent points scored per game. However, the Pacers are allowing the fourth most offensive rebounds in the NBA (10.6) while also giving up the second most second chance points in the league, leaving some cause for concern.
“I feel like teams get some second chance points, and that’s on us,” said TJ McConnell when asked where the team needs to improve on the defensive end. “We kind of look and stare instead of hitting a man. We’re getting better, but there’s a lot of room for improvement for sure.”
Like McConnell, Myles Turner also knows the Pacers need to be better on the boards, while adding the transition defense could use some shoring up too.
“Defensive rebounding is a big thing,” says Turner when asked where the team still needs to improve defensively. “I think we give up way too many offensive rebounds throughout the season, and I think our transition defense has to get a little bit better. It’s gotten better these past couple games. But especially with the young teams that get out and run, that’s going to be something we have to nip in the bud.”
While the blue and gold currently have the league’s leading shot blocker in Turner, Justin Holiday also says it’s on the rest of the team to keep players from getting to Myles down low.
“We have to be better on the ball, keeping the ball in front of us,” Holiday says. “We’re fortunate enough to have Myles back there blocking shots. [He’s] the anchor to our defense, which is a big deal. And when we do have good defensive games, the reason why is because of Myles.”
“But we need to get to a point where we can keep that ball in front of us and not have to rely on Myles to do that,” Holiday continues. “I want us to really have the focus of keeping the ball in front of us, locking the ball up, pressuring it, and making guys do what we want them to do, as well as having that backside help.”
Like Coach Bjorkgren, Holiday ultimately emphasizes that a strong defensive stand ends in securing the rebound.
“[We need to] continue to finish the play every play,” Holiday says. “Sometimes, we do a great job rotating and getting to the ball in scramble situations. And sometimes, we’ll get one or two passes, and then somebody’s shooting an open shot and nobody’s running at ‘em. Again, that’s something that’s tough to do. But I think at this point in the season, we have to start going in the right direction with that. And again, rebounding is the end of finishing a defensive possession.”
The Pacers are slated to face off against the Houston Rockets on Saturday, Feb. 20 (although the game could potentially be postponed due to weather), before heading back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse next Wednesday (Feb. 24) for a showdown with the Golden State Warriors. The team then closes out the first half of their season with a four-game Eastern Conference road trip, followed by another tough home matchup versus the Denver Nuggets.
Note from Seth: My NUVO Pacers column was formerly known as the Home Dipo. Following the trade of Victor Oladipo, however, I’m looking for a new name that still conveys that same, fun energy. If you have anything in mind, please email me, and I’ll be sure to shout you out if I end up going with your idea!