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May 3, 2012
Playoff Prospectus
Pounding the Paint

by Bradford Doolittle

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Indiana 97, at Orlando 74 (Pacers lead 2-1)
Pace: 87.1
Offensive Ratings: Indiana 111.4, Orlando 85.0

In a good playoff series, storylines change a few times over the course of a matchup. Just when you think you've got a grasp of what's going to be the deciding factors, someone makes an adjustment, or someone gets hurt, and a whole new set of variables are put into play. Sometimes, though, a series turns out to be just what you though it would be.

Don't take that as a smug statement that my pre-series forecast of a pain-free, five-game romp by the Pacers is going to turn out well. Sports never work like that. Just when you think you have something figured out, it turns out to be wrong. That's why we love these silly games. Nevertheless ... the Pacers are in excellent position to glide into the second round and, at the moment, we can take their Game 1 finish and Game 2 start as mere blips on the radar.

Indiana dominated Game 3 on the Magic's home floor by once again flexing their muscle in the paint. The Pacers had 42-22 edge there, and grabbed 13 of 41 offensive rebound opportunities. With the lane closed down, Indiana extended its defense, forcing 17 turnovers that led to 27 points. They sealed off the defensive glass, going 33 for 38 there, and got out on the break. The Pacers outscored the Magic 18-0 in transition.

The other effect of extending the defense was to limit Orlando's three-points looks, which was a factor that Frank Vogel brought up in his post-game presser. Orlando was 5 of 15 from long range in a game in which it had to play from behind. As Vogel pointed out, the Magic averaged 28 three-point attempts per game during the regular season.

For the second straight game, Glen Davis had the best box score line on the Magic, yet still posted the worst plus-minus number. Davis is leading the Magic in scoring and rebounding in the series, and has taken 54 shots. He's hit just 43 percent of those shots and Orlando is -53 with him on the floor. That's not to suggest that Stan Van Gundy should sit Davis. Obviously he has no other choice but to play him heavy minutes. I'm just saying that despite some nice counting numbers, Davis has not helped at the bottom line.

That's no surprise. Davis is the type of player who can be very damaging if not used properly. He once again posted a below-replacement WARP this season. That's been the case in each of the last four seasons. What's been more troubling in this series is the play of stats-darling Ryan Anderson, long a pet project of ours at Basketball Prospectus. He finally got starter minutes this season and responded by putting up the same excellent numbers he did in a smaller role, only doing in for longer stretches.

However, he has floundered without Dwight Howard to open things up. Indiana has not given him any room to breathe and he's scored just 23 points in the three games. On Wednesday, he had 7 points and 1 rebound in 32 minutes. Van Gundy called Anderson out in his postgame presser, saying that he's let the fact that the Pacers have taken away his looks detract from his overall game. It's hard to argue against his point.

For the series, the Magic have put up an Offensive Rating of just 87.6 and have an eFG% of .439. That's some real domination. Indiana's starting five has coalesced into one of the strongest units in the playoffs and a clear offensive pecking order seems to have emerged. It's inside-out and when you put your best interior defender on David West, then Roy Hibbert goes to work. And vice versa. Davis moved onto West on Wednesday; Hibbert responded by going 8 of 10 from the field.

What makes this so exciting for Pacers fans is that they've made the double-post scheme work on both ends of the floor. The problem with having two prolific post players on the court at the same time in the modern game is that they too often don't hold up on defense. Teams that can hold up against small lineups, floor-spacing power forwards and frequent pick-and-rolls get a huge advantage in paint play on the glass and on the offensive end. That's been a hallmark of recent Lakers teams. And now it seems to be working well in Indiana. We know Orlando is playing small because it quite literally has no big-lineup options with Howard out.

Van Gundy is a great coach, so it will be interesting to see what he comes up with fir Game 4. It's tough to see where he's going to find any answers, but you never know. If he doesn't, this series will last just two more games. Don't worry, I won't gloat. It really wasn't that hard to see it coming.

(Note: Data from MySynergySports.com and NBA.com/Stats were used in this piece.)

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Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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