In winning Game 4 in Washington, 95-92, Sunday night, the Pacers received a grand total of two points from the reserves. That marked the fewest for any team in the postseason since Boston’s bench scored two in a loss at Miami in Game 7 of the 2012 conference finals. Indiana is the first team to win a playoff game with just two bench points since the Celtics beat Orlando in Game 4 of a 2009 first-round series.
It also represented the fewest bench points in any game, regular season or playoffs, for the Pacers in at least five years, which is as far back as my record-keeping goes for this particular statistic.
As they head into Game 5 tonight with the chance to close out the Wizards at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Pacers’ starters have been stout but may also be weary. They averaged 41.5 minutes apiece Sunday, prompting Frank Vogel to give the team off Monday. No film, no shooting, nothing.
“If you play five minutes, you’ve got to impact the game in five minutes,” Vogel said. “If you play 40, you’ve got to play 40 solid minutes. We want everybody to fill their role and pull their own weight and I don’t think it’s any more than that. We’re hoping for everybody’s best effort.”
The oddity is, the only productive game the Pacers got from their bench in this series, they lost. The reserves compiled 33 points in Game 1, a 102-96 loss. In the three games since, they’ve totaled 32 points on 25 percent shooting – but Indiana won all three.
In Game 4, Washington held a 33-2 advantage in bench scoring. And lost.
With Indiana’s second unit on the floor in the second quarter, the Wizards rode their geezers (Al Harrington, Andre Miller and Drew Gooden are a combined 102 years old with 43 NBA seasons between them) to a 12-0 run to take an 11-point lead. With they returned to start the fourth, the Pacers ripped off a 9-0 run to take an 83-74 lead.
Luis Scola has been marginally productive with 24 points and 11 rebounds in 61 minutes. But C.J. Watson and Evan Turner have vanished, combining for 38 points and 10-of-30 shooting.
Ian Mahinmi, so huge in the Atlanta series filling in while Roy Hibbert struggled, has been a non-factor against the Wizards.
Just exactly what Vogel can do to get the bench going is unclear, because his options are limited. Chris Copeland could help spark some offense, but that doesn’t solve the disappearances of Watson and Turner.
“We look at that and I always feel responsible if the bench doesn’t come in and perform well,” Vogel said. “I don’t always look at those guys, I look at how I’m using them. What do the defensive rotations look like, what do the matchups look like, what play calls are we using with those guys?
“Certainly we’re evaluating everything after every game and trying to put them in the best position to succeed.”
It may seem trivial now, with the Pacers on the verge of closing out the Wizards, but they’ve failed to get past Miami two years in a row largely because the bench did not produce. In last year’s conference finals, the starters were plus-48 against Miami, but the bench was minus-76.
The players have changed, the bench rebuilt each of the past three years, but the end result has not. It’s a chronic problem that must be corrected, before the Pacers trip over the next step.