Indiana Pacers' Defense and Playoffs Fate Are Hamstrung by Awful Offense

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Indiana Pacers' Defense and Playoffs Fate Are Hamstrung by Awful Offense
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Now down 2-1 in their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, the Indiana Pacers are searching for answers.

The Pacers were a defensive juggernaut during the regular season, finishing second in opponent points per game (92.3) and first in defensive rating (99.3).

While the offense has sputtered through the first three games of the series, the defense has still proven effective at times for Indiana. Allowing just 94.7 points a contest should be enough to win games for most teams, but the Pacers defense will have to be even better for them to mount a comeback against the Hawks.

Looking ahead to the rest of this postseason and beyond, can the Pacers win a championship based off of their defense alone, or will they have to build a more reliable offense in order to bring home a title?


Pacers' Historic Defense?

Up until the Feb. 20 trade deadline, the Pacers were playing some of the stingiest defense the NBA had ever seen.

Adam Fromal of Bleacher Report gave an excellent breakdown earlier in the season of just how good Indiana was on the defensive end. At the time, its defensive rating of 95.5 would have ranked as the fourth-best mark in the last 37 years. Fromal would go on to say:

Although it's still early in the season, Indiana currently boasts the best defense in NBA history. That's not a hyperbolic statement, but rather one steeped in fact and statistical evidence. And scarily enough, the Pacers might get even better, assuming they can stave off the more difficult part of their schedule.

As we later found out after the trade of Danny Granger on Feb. 20, this defense wouldn't be quite so elite.

Leading up to that date, the Pacers were allowing just 90.7 points per contest while holding opponents to 41.3 percent shooting from the field.

Since the deadline, those numbers rose to 95.4 a game on 43.4 percent shooting.

So the Pacers may not have continued their historic pace, but their defense remained stout.

Is it good enough to compensate for their lackluster offense, however?

Does Defense Really Win Championships?

Your high school coach probably said as much, but does the classic mantra actually ring true? Or does offense have a little role to play as well?

Here's where the past 10 NBA champions ranked when it comes to offensive and defensive rating.

Team/Year '04 Detroit Pistons  '05 San Antonio Spurs '06 Miami Heat '07 San Antonio Spurs '08 Boston Celtics '09,'10 Los Angeles Lakers '11 Dallas Mavericks '12,'13 Miami Heat
Def Rating  95.4  98.8  104.5  99.9  98.9 104.7, 103.7 105 100.2, 103.7
NBA Rank  2nd  1st  9th  2nd  1st 6th, 4th 8th 4th, 9th
Off Rating  102  107.5  108.7  109.2  110.2 112.8, 108.8 109.7 106.6, 112.3
NBA Rank  18th  8th  7th  5th  10th 3rd, 11th 8th 8th, 2nd

A couple takeaways from this chart:

  • No team that won a title in the last 10 years finished worse than ninth overall in defensive rating.
  • Only two of the 10 teams that were ranked first overall in defensive rating in the regular season went on to win a title.
  • Offense is clearly important, as just the 2003-04 Pistons squad finished below 11th overall.
  • Seven of the 10 champions ranked better or the same in defensive rating than offensive rating.

Pool/Getty Images
Teams like the Spurs and Pistons have won titles based off their defense.

We've seen the numbers put forth by past champions, so how do the Pacers stack up?


If history holds true, the Pacers could not win an NBA championship with their current offense.

Indiana finished the regular season ranked 23rd in offensive rating (104.1). The only title team to even come close to playing this poorly with the ball was the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons, who finished 18th overall. It's worth noting that their defensive rating came in at 95.4 that season, compared to the Pacers' 99.3 this year.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It may seem obvious, but championship teams have historically thrived on both ends of the ball, not just defense.

Despite employing players like Paul George, Lance Stephenson, Evan Turner and David West, this team needs a lot more help offensively to bring home a title.

Even if the Pacers manage to come back and beat the Hawks, don't expect Indiana to make an NBA Finals run this postseason.

While the Pacers defense remains championship-worthy, that offense just isn't ready yet.

All stats via unless otherwise noted.

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