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The Miami Heat Couldn’t Defend the Most Basic Play in Basketball

The Indiana Pacers’ victory Sunday in Game 1 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals seemed a fitting reward for their long regular-season campaign to secure home-court advantage, always with an eye on a hypothetical playoff matchup with the Miami Heat. The Pacers’ raucous home crowd egged them on to an out-of-character offensive performance. They scored at a rate of 120.6 points per 100 possessions, their most efficient offensive performance of the playoffs and their fifth-best of the season.

The Pacers’ point total was surprising, but how the team scored those points was entirely unexpected. The Pacers haven’t relied heavily on the pick-and-roll — mostly because they haven’t been very good at it. According to mySynergySports, in pick-and-rolls so far this season (including Sunday’s game), the Pacers rank 14th in efficiency in possessions finished by the ball handler, and 20th in possessions finished by the screener (these statistics only include pick-and-rolls that resulted in a field-goal attempt, free throw or turnover by the screener or the ball handler).

But even matching that mediocre standard would have been an optimistic goal for the Pacers; the Heat are among the league’s best pick-and-roll defenders. They rank first in efficiency on defending pick-and-roll possessions finished by the ball handler and fifth on those finished by the screener. So far this season, the Heat’s opponents ran pick-and-rolls on 16 percent of their offensive possessions, scoring an average of 0.74 points per play.

The table below shows how the Pacers’ pick-and-roll attack fared in Game 1 against the Heat, compared with their performances in the regular season and their previous playoff series.

The Indiana Pacers’ Pick-And-Roll


Against the Heat on Sunday, the Pacers were more efficient on pick-and-roll possessions, and they ran pick-and-rolls more often. The Pacers’ spacing was unusually precise, stretching the Heat’s defensive rotations and keeping driving lanes open for ball handlers. Paul George, Lance Stephenson and the rest of the Pacers’ backcourt players were also extremely careful with the ball, both in delivering passes to their rolling bigs and avoiding getting stripped on drives to the basket. Just 11 percent of their pick-and-roll possessions ended in a turnover in Game 1, better than their season-long average of 14 percent and far below the 23 percent the Heat defense forced this season.

It’s hard to imagine the Pacers keeping up this kind of performance on the pick-and-roll throughout the rest of the series, but they have laid out a good template for offensive success.

Ian Levy is the senior NBA editor for and the man behind the curtain at The Step Back and Nylon Calculus.