The Indiana Pacers' first-round series against the Orlando Magic was supposed to be a mere formality, and an aesthetically miserable one at that. If nothing else, this series has managed to live up to half of that billing.
Indy and Orlando have both played some pretty hideous basketball at times over the last four games, but the Pacers have just barely managed to make more out of the mess. That was certainly the case on Saturday, when despite their best efforts to lose, Indiana managed to sneak away with a tough, series-altering win.
- It's clear at this point in the series—and season, for that matter—that the Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic are both tremendously limited teams. Yet, the way that both squads navigated those limitations in this particular contest couldn't have been more different. The Pacers, though the eventual victors, managed to win in spite of themselves; Indiana practically tried to give this game away, and yet, thanks to a call, a play or a fortunate bounce, they were able to pull out the 101-99 win in overtime. The Magic lost, but their effort and offensive execution were actually pretty remarkable, all things considered. Without Dwight Howard, Orlando is forced to be a team that claws for every bucket, and despite shooting 40 percent from the field and committing 16 turnovers, the Magic were in the thick of a highly competitive game. If there was any justice in this basketball world, Orlando would be returning to Indiana with an even series. Instead, the underdogs saw a winnable game snatched out from under them and stare down the seemingly unavoidable final blow that comes with the territory of being down 1-3.
- Glen Davis shouldn't be as effective as he's been, but then again, that's more or less the story of his entire career. Davis' lack of height and athleticism have naturally been a problem when either Hibbert or West are in his path, but the seemingly random shifts and angles that Davis takes on drives have somehow thrown off the entire Pacers defense. Awkwardness alone has created numerous opportunities for Davis at the rim, but so too has his pretty breathless work to find openings and create passing lanes. It's been a tough season for Davis, but he's done a pretty tremendous job over the course of this series of providing Orlando with some semblance of an interior big man.
- The Pacers are a good defensive team, but their pick-and-roll defense in Game 4 was maddening. Containing Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu off the dribble just isn't worth allowing Davis to saunter to the rim for an uncontested layup; nothing in that defensive decision carries any amount of logical weight, and that Indy struggled so mightily to defend basic pick-and-roll action in the fourth quarter is at the very least an ominous portend of their struggles to come. Hibbert's lack of mobility in those situations definitely complicates things, but the Pacer defense as a whole will need to be more dynamic against what will only be more formidable pick-and-roll tandems going forward. We shouldn't look entirely beyond the Magic here, but assuming this series eventually reaches its most likely conclusion, the Pacers will have an entirely new set of considerable problems in the second round.
- Paul George—for all of his development and occasional brilliance—is still too much of an offensive wild card to be depended on over the course of a playoff series. George finished Game 4 with two points (on 1-of-7 shooting) and three turnovers, in part because the Pacers don't have much reliable offensive action that can establish him as a scorer. Indy runs pin-down curls for Danny Granger, post-ups for Hibbert and high pick-and-rolls involving West and George Hill. But George is merely left to slash at an opportune time or find a spot on the perimeter to space the floor, and as such, is limited in his ability to impact the outcome of a playoff series. Shot creation just isn't in his repertoire at this stage in his career, even though the Pacer offense could desperately use his help.
- Somehow, the Pacers' starters—who had been one of the most effective groups in the regular season and the postseason thus far in terms of plus-minus, adjusted plus-minus and likely any metric of your choosing—dropped the ball. Indy's reserves—who have formed some of the most abysmal lineup configurations in the league this season in terms of those same measures of net performance—essentially won them the game. Aren't aberrations just a blast?