Notebook: Focus on Free Throws
For an hour on Friday afternoon, the Pacers spread out on a half-dozen baskets, including those on the practice court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and attempted free throw after free throw. 100 each to end practice, which included film work and some offensive cleanups.
The most glaring takeaway from the Pacers’ 85-75 loss at New York in Game was how poorly they shot foul shots. The Pacers hit 75 percent of their attempts during the regular season, ranking 19th in the league.
Indiana’s 57.6 percent mark (going 19-off 33 from the line) on Thursday was its second lowest free throw percentage of the season. They shot below 60 percent four times, the worst night on Jan. 21, in a one-point win at Memphis (6-of-11, 54.5 percent).
“We need every single point and we just left too many points out there,” David West said. “That’s just us not focusing and stepping up to the plate.”
Paul George on his three misses: “Those first couple of ones were just real jittery. It was me just not focusing in all the way. Shooting it today, I felt comfortable and I just got to take my time when I’m there.”
The chances were there for the Pacers to go in front and win. Numerous actually. They got to within four with almost seven minutes to play and were only down eight with 3:32 remaining. But for the second time in this series, the Pacers lost the game due to self-inflicated pain. 14 missed free throws and 19 turnovers isn’t a combination for winning.
“We were playing like the pressure was on us,” D.J. Augustin, who started in place of Hill, said. “We just need to calm down, come out the next game, and just play hard and focus.”
No Hill a real possibility
The Pacers are unsure when their point guard, George Hill, will be cleared to play again. He sustained a concussion early in last Tuesday’s game, but it didn’t appear to faze him. He led all scorers with 26 points and was smiling and joking around in the locker room after the win. At shootaround on Thursday morning, he complained of a headache and later failed the concussion test.
Related: the NBA’s Concussion Protocol
It’s hard to predict when he might return to the court because concussions are very player-specific. Consider that Pau Gasol was out 10 games, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist missed five games and Kobe Bryant didn’t miss any time at all after being diagnosed with a concussion. Because Hill was able to remain in the game and play 30 minutes, maybe his case isn’t too bad. But we just don’t know.
Should he not be able to go, the Pacers will miss their steady hand, and a great leader that sets up others well.
“George is real poised,” said Paul George, the other half of the G2 Zone. “He’s a veteran at the point guard position and he’s the real extension of coach. He gets us into sets and makes sure everybody’s on the same page.”
Augustin has to be prepared to start once again and play more than 30 minutes. He played decently well on Thursday, finishing with 12 points, but he didn’t have one assist. Vogel and the team expect more – and need more – from the point guard position. Lance Stephenson and George also spent some time bringing the ball up.
Vogel said the staff is constantly evaluating their depth chart and considering matchups. Sam Young played almost 15 minutes and Gerald Green was on the court for 13 minutes, though neither produced very much.
“We weigh our rotation everyday and see what makes sense,” Vogel said.
Still a confident bunch
Even though they failed to wrap up the series on Thursday, the Pacers are’t over-reacting to the loss. That’s been their mantra all year. They don’t get too high with wins or too low with losses.
“[Game 5] was an opportunity lost, but the great thing is we did our work early and now we have home court advantage to close it out,” George said.
After taking three of the first games, the Pacers have two opportunities to end it. Urgency is felt to finish the Knicks off on Saturday because the last thing they want to do is return to the hostile environment at Madison Square Garden for truly a must-win game.
“There’s some adjustments that we can make very easily in how we’re playing to make things more easy on ourselves,” Frank Vogel said Friday.
Taking care of the ball is the number one concern. If they’re careless with the ball, they can’t score and it often leads to transition buckets for the Knicks. Passes must be crisper into the post, fast breaks must be executed successfully and the Pacers must dominate the inside game like they did in their three wins.
“We feel like we have the plan to beat the New York Knicks, we just need to execute it,” Vogel said confidently.