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Double trouble

Pacers' double doesn't work -- now look where they are

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Posted: Thursday June 08, 2000 12:58 PM

By John Donovan,

Hot Hands, Cold Feet
Swishes & Bricks

This is a special edition of the NBA Week at a Glance. It will appear every day until the NBA Finals conclude.

LOS ANGELES -- So now comes the hard part, for the Indiana Pacers. As if getting their lunch handed to them in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night was a breeze.

Tuesday, the Pacers hit the practice floor again, still stinging from a 17-point loss to the Los Angeles Lakers that was -- let's face it -- not even that close.

And everyone there, everyone who saw even a play of Game 1, knows what the Pacers' top priority is for Game 2 Friday night.

No one, though, knows whether they can actually pull it off.

"Even if you get a body on him, he's still long enough to go over you to get the rebound," Indiana's Austin Croshere said. "When you give a guy that big that many shots at the basket, you're not going to win the basketball game."

Croshere, like everyone else, was talking about L.A.'s Shaquille O'Neal, who spent Game 1 abusing every defense that Indiana tossed his way. If you can call it defense.

When O'Neal wasn't shooting and scoring -- 21-of-31 for 43 points -- he was finding open cutters with passes or getting the ball around the perimeter to get him a better shot on the next entry pass.

SI's Marty Burns

Before Game 1, Indiana coach Larry Bird said he felt his team would have to match L.A. on the boards and shoot over 46 percent from the floor to beat the Lakers. Instead the Pacers got creamed on the glass, 48-36, including several killer offensive rebounds. Meanwhile, Indiana shot just 42.1 percent, although some of that can be attributed to an off night by the normally reliable Reggie Miller. Bottom line: Shaq gave them headaches at both ends of the floor.

Here are a few more observations from Game 1:

Deep touches -- When Shaq gets position deep in the post, he's impossible to stop no matter how many players swarm him. Shaq also did a great job going quickly off the catch to beat Indiana's double teams, and recognizing that the help was usually coming from the top. The Pacers will need to double harder, and mix it up more.

Kobe's defense -- Kobe Bryant's ball pressure on Pacers point guard Mark Jackson was tremendous. It didn't cause turnovers, but it kept Indiana from getting into its half court offense quickly, and thus disrupted the timing. Kobe also did a good job chasing Miller when assigned to him.

Indiana Hope -- As poorly as the Pacers played, they were only down two points late in the third quarter. Jackson had success posting up Bryant, and Austin Croshere showed he might be a real matchup problem off the bench. Perhaps most encouraging of all, Miller won't have another 1-for- 16 shooting night.

"I thought our double-teams were soft," Indiana coach Larry Bird said. "You have to put some pressure on him. You just can't let him look around and pinpoint his passes."

The Pacers tried to play O'Neal one-on-one on several occasions Wednesday night without any success. Even when they doubled-down on him, though, the second man was often so slow coming that it was too late.

Add that to the fact that O'Neal, at 7-foot-1 and 335 pounds, can belly up to the basket against any single man and the Pacers were in deep, deep trouble.

"He's catching the ball in the paint, with one foot in the paint," Bird said. "If he does that all series long, it's just a little jump for him to score."

One way to help defend O'Neal is to put pressure on the ballhandler. That makes it more difficult to get the ball into O'Neal, and it gives him less time to shoot once he gets it.

Once he gets it, the Pacers may have no choice but to immediately double him every time he gets the ball and force him to pass it. And even that may not be enough if he's close enough to the basket.

Still, given the results of Game 1, the Pacers would rather have someone else on the Lakers shooting the ball -- anyone -- than give O'Neal 31 shots from point-blank range.

"We need to come at him a lot harder with our double- and triple-teams," said Indiana center Rik Smits. "At times, he threw the ball out of the post, then re-posted and was wide open.

"He got good position down low and he made us pay."

The Pacers will have to keep paying, too, if they don't come up with something.

On to the NBA Finals Day at a Glance, which on this off day asks: Didn't Indiana see how Portland hassled Shaq?

The answer: Sure. But let's say this: The Pacers are not the Blazers.

The Big Hurt
What do you do with O'Neal? What can you do with O'Neal? Where is Tonya Harding when the Pacers need her?
The Home Court
It's as important in this series as avocados are to a good pizza. In L.A., we mean. The Lakers have to have Game 2 to keep it. If they do, figure one in Indy -- no home team has ever won all three in the middle -- and the title's nearly the Lakers'.
Hanging around
You can call Game 1 a blowout, but the Pacers were in it -- down by only two -- late in the third quarter. The Lakers still play around too much. The Pacers will make them pay if they keep it up.
He plays best, it seems, when he gets the most guff and the Pacers need him the most. The Lakers are going to have to come out even stronger against Miller this time. And, even then, you know he won't pull a 1-for-16.
Hot Hands and Cold Feet
HOT: Shaquille O'Neal
If this guy starts to get any better passing out of the double-down -- and he's darn good now -- he could get 43 points every night. His four assists, including a critical pass to cutter Brian Shaw early in the fourth, were impressive.
HOT: Austin Croshere
If it weren't for this guy off the bench, the Pacers would have been really embarrassed in Game 1. He had 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting, six rebounds and looks to get more playing time as this series progresses. Or regresses, if the Pacers pull another Game 1.
COLD: Brian Shaw
The Lakers' swingman was 2-for-9 from the floor -- missing all four of his 3s -- and took the blame for putting up the bricks that allowed the Pacers to get back into Game 1. Here's a hint: Don't shoot when 34's on fire.
HOT: L.A.'s first quarter
Really, that's when Game 1 was won. The Lakers shot 68.2 percent, Shaq had 15 points on 7-of-8, the defense hassled Reggie Miller into a 0-for-6 quarter. Coast city after that.
Injuries . Knock on wood, it's nice to see a series where injuries will not play a major factor. Remember last season when the health of Larry Johnson and Patrick Ewing dominated the Finals? No excuses for either side this time around. Down
Double teams . OK, Indiana, so you don't like to use them. Do it anyway! And we're not talking some Pacers-come-lately wave at the guy when he's under the glass. Run to him as soon as the pass comes in. Sooner! Unless you want to see a dunkfest for four straight games, with you guys the dunkees. Down
O'Neal . That said, is there any doubt in anyone's mind who the most dominating player in the league is? Who the MVP is? Fred? Anyone? Up
Mark Jackson . He can be oh-so New York brash at times, but Jackson proved in Game 1 that he's game for this thing. He scored 18 points, dished out a game-high seven assists ... even coach Larry Bird admitted he should have played the guy more than the 28 minutes he got. Up
Swishes and Bricks
Game 1
Swish : A slam dunk for the Lakers.
Brick : A snooze, mostly, for the fans.
Swish : Power, grace, the smile -- this guy has it all. Well, almost.
Brick : See, you hardly noticed he was 1-for-6 from the line.
Miller time
Swish : He'll be back, and he's coming out shooting.
Brick : Well, that's great. But will he make any?
The Lakers
Swish : When they play, they're clearly the best in the NBA.
Brick : Sometimes, they stop playing.

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